SONSHIP
                GLEANINGS FROM JUDGES 10 & 11

Scripture reading: Judges 10:1,3,4, “Now after Abimelech died, Tola
the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, arose to save
Israel; and he lived in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim…. And
after him, Jair the Gileadite arose and judged Israel twenty-two
years. And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they
had thirty cities in the land of Gilead that are called Havvoth-jair to
this day.”  

One of the most impressive yet seldom considered topics in the Bible
might be the topic of “sonship.”  The word “son” occurred in the Old
Testament alone some 5,000 times and is laden with spiritual
significance. It represents the very embodiment of God’s eternal
purpose. Its connection with full maturity, kingdom, and glory is both
profound and provocative. More commonly among God’s children,
however, the connection is made merely with the Son’s redemptive
aspect of salvation rather than the full scope of sonship that includes
reigning, kingdom, and glory.  

The fact that God gave us His “only begotten Son” is wonderful
indeed, but God never intended for us to stop only at the point of
believing and receiving the Son, He also desires that we mature and
become His “many sons being led into glory.” The careful readers of
the Bible have observed that the “only begotten Son” in the gospels
has become the “first-born Son” in the epistles (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15,
18; Heb. 1:6). This transition is so profound, it demands our careful
considerations, for it unveils a full range of God’s purpose and His
way of achieving it.  

The “only begotten Son” emphasizes the aspect of the Son’s
incarnation, while the “first-born Son” denotes the aspect of the Son’s
resurrection. The fact that the vast majority of Christians are well
acquainted with the “only begotten Son,” but are only vaguely
familiar with the “first-born Son” indicates a woeful inadequacy in our
spiritual pursuit and understanding of His eternal purpose.  

In the Old Testament, the sons have to undergo rigorous training
before they are qualified to receive the inheritance. Does this not tell
us of our need for much preparation before we are fit to reign with
Him in the kingdom? If it was fitting “for Him…to make the captain of
our salvation perfect through sufferings,” how much more fitting it is
for us to be prepared by the cross? If He, being a Son had to “learn
obedience from the things which He suffered,” how much more we
need to learn our lessons of brokenness to be designated “many
sons” and to be led “into glory”?  

While a great deal more can be said about “sonship” in general, we
must turn to our subject at hand, namely, sonship as revealed in
Judges 10 & 11.  

Judges 10 opens with two judges in a row, Tola and Jair. Nothing is
said about what they exactly did except, “Tola…arose to save Israel”
and, “Jair… arose and judged Israel.” The only other thing mentioned
about Tola is a clear and precise listing of his lineage: “Tola, the son
of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar;” and the strangely
interesting thing recorded about Jair is that he had thirty sons, and
all of them “rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities in the
land of Gilead.”  

Why did the Holy Spirit omit the things that could make headlines
such as: how they heroically “saved Israel,” and how they “judged
Israel”? Instead, the Holy Spirit chose to put emphasis on Tola’s
lineage and Jair’s almost comical “thirty sons riding on thirty
donkeys”! Strange, isn’t it? Was this intended to be a bit of the
divine humor, or was there a serious lesson in it somewhere?  

Tola came from a line of sons suggesting, first of all, there is
something
definite about sonship. God is never vague or ambiguous
about what He is after—Christ, who is the “Son over His house whose
house we are” (Heb. 3:6a). Yes, God does desire to have “many
sons” in His house, but He leaves no doubt as to who is over His
house: the Son. In God’s eyes, He only sees His beloved Son in whom
He is well pleased. The centrality and supremacy of His Son is in
every page of the divine Word and in every breath of the All Mighty!  

Sadly though, Christians tend to choose to be definite about issues
rather than sonship: many are definite about the issue of “abortion,”
some about the issue of “gun control,” others about the issues of
“homosexuality,” “death penalty,” “welfare….” Not that these issues
are unimportant, or we should not have strong feelings about them,
but when the world sees us, does it see the Son, or does it see
issues? Are we Christians because of the Son, or are we Christians
because of our stand on abortion? Are we Christ-driven, or are we
crisis-driven? O, that we would be definite about the Son!  

Secondly, this line is
unbroken—“for whatever promises of God there
are, in Him is the yes, wherefore also through Him is the amen….” His
purpose cannot be broken.  When men proved to be unfaithful and
prone to failure, God’s purpose has never been deterred. Even in the
darkest hour of human history, God has always preserved an
unbroken line of sons to perpetuate His purpose. Whether it is the
apostasy of Israel or the degradation of the Church, His sons, the
remnant, are always standing in the gap to keep the testimony going
forward.  

In light of the declension that pervades the Church today, the
question of the hour is: “are we perpetuating an unbroken line of
religious system, or are we perpetuating an unbroken line of the
testimony of His Son Jesus”?  When Joshua led the people of Israel
to the edge of the Good Land, it was the priests who stood in the
river while an unbroken line of people crossed into their full sonship –
the inheritance of the rich portion of the land.  

Likewise, in order for sonship to become a New Testament reality,
there needs to be a people who are willing to assume their
priesthood and step into the death waters (the crucified life), with
the Ark (the testimony of Jesus) on their shoulders; and by doing so
they usher God’s people into their experiences of the fullness of
Christ. Only when we experience the reality of “death works in me,
but life in you,” can we perpetuate the line of sonship and keep the
line of the testimony unbroken.  

Thirdly, this line is
traceable. Throughout Church history, the real
testimony of God is almost always hidden yet traceable. The meek
and the lowly character of the Lamb is hardly found in gigantic
cathedrals, or amid pomp and circumstance; but the fragrance of
Christ is always transmitted from the broken and contrite, the lowly
and hidden ones. These ones have allowed the cross of Christ to
operate deeply in their lives to produce the precious ointment for the
house.  

The sons therefore, are not the high-profiled, high-octane attention
seekers; nor are they the blind followers of men or pharisaical
keepers of status quo. In every generation, in every age, the real
testimony is always in the hands of the sons, a people rejected by
religion, a people outside the camp.  

Whether recorded or not, almost all the spiritual figures in the Bible
have a hidden history before the Lord. Most Christians are familiar
with the formation of precious stones—that it takes heat and
pressure over time. But, one important detail is often left out: the
formation of precious stones takes place in the dark. Whether or not
we have a hidden history with the Lord determines the measure of
our sonship. The depth of our hidden history, not our gifts, not our
zeal, not our ability, not our eloquence, not even our sufferings,
determines the strength of our testimony. We all must go through
the fiery trials of heat and pressure, but most of us display our
sufferings in full view of men to win sympathy and respect. Some
advanced Christians shroud themselves in sufferings to promote their
pseudo spirituality.  

The sons are the ones who have learned to bring their scars to Jesus
in the inner chamber. The sons therefore are the Lord’s hidden ones—
hidden, but traceable. They are traceable because their broken
alabaster boxes have left a trail of fragrance.  Dear saints, in your
journeys through life are you leaving a trail of fragrance behind? Or
are you merely leaving a trail of broken but empty alabaster bottles?  

Fourthly, the names mentioned in this line are all “sons.”  Instead of
going from fathers to sons, please notice that the lineage identifies
them all as sons.  In other words, there is an
identification in
sonship.  All of men’s works that are connected to God’s eternal
purpose are identifiable by the Holy Spirit, because the ones involved
in His work have all been conformed to the image of the Son both in
nature, in character, and in calling.  

Church historians such as Andrew Miller (Miller’s Church History),
Edmund Broadbent (The Pilgrim Church), and John W. Kennedy (The
Torch of The Testimony) each made significant contributions in terms
of identifying those men and women (yes,
female sons) who yielded
to the Holy Spirit’s dealings to form the character of the Son in them;
and they were ushered into the calling of God’s eternal purpose in
differing measures at different times.  

Additionally, a point needs to be made about God’s identification
versus men’s identification: Men identify with “greatness,” God
identifies with His Son.  Men look for “fathers”—the “Father of
Electricity,” “the Father of Thermal Dynamics,” “the Father of Jazz
Music,” “the Father of Impressionist Painting”…. God looks for His
humble Son.

If we are serious about the Lord’s eternal purpose, it behooves us to
find the right spiritual identification with His Son. That’s why it is
also important to choose our fellowship groups, because the groups
we are identified with usually influence our spiritual pursuit and our
knowledge of the Lord. The group’s vision can become our vision, but
the group’s bias can also become our bias.  

Historically, there were some extremist groups that went over the
deep ends; and the majority of the so-called “Mainstream
Christianity” was (and still is) plagued by traditionalism and
formalism.  But there has always been a remnant in every generation
that the Lord preserved to carry on the line of sonship.  May the Lord
give us the desire and the discernment to make the right
identifications.  

Fifthly, the line of sonship shows
diversity in homogeneity: each son
is unique and different yet belonging to the same family.  Likewise,
in God’s family all the children are different, yet they possess the
same life and the same Spirit.  God’s wisdom in Christian unity is
seen in variety, not in uniformity.  Sadly, many have attempted to
gain Christian unity by preaching and enforcing an outward conformity
which put the human spirit in bondage and resulted in a lifeless,
robotic uniformity.  The real “oneness of the faith” (Eph. 4:13) is only
achieved by our oneness with Him first (Jn. 17:21).  When our vertical
oneness with the Godhead is usurped and replaced by men or by a
system, we have no more oneness than the United Nations!  

As each son maintains an intimate and vertical oneness with the
Lord, the resulting horizontal fellowship amongst the sons gives the
Holy Spirit a chance to speak to us and to enlighten our eyes with
respect to the Son, thus leading us to the “oneness of the faith.”  

Last but not least, this line which traces upward to its source implies
headship.  In any sort of Christian experience or spiritual ministry,
the most important thing is to link up with the head, Christ, is it not?
If our source is other than Christ, if our ministry does not issue from
our holding fast the Head, regardless of the intention or the outcome,
we are in the firm grip of the Enemy; and all our toil, fruits,
ministries and work are entirely rubbish!  Blessed is he who
maintains a vertical relationship with our risen Lord and holds fast
the headship of our exalted Christ.  Only the work that comes out of
a vertical holding fast of the headship of Christ has any value.  

While all Christians and churches claim to honor the headship of
Christ, most in reality are holding onto either a leader, a preacher, a
congregation, a set of doctrines and traditions, or worse, a lifeless
building!  When pastors, workers, and church members obligate
themselves to defending the “sacred establishment” and the
unscriptural teachings and practices of their assemblies, are they still
holding fast the headship of Christ?  When Christians denominate
themselves by doctrines, by leaders, by practices, by races, cultures
and languages, they unwittingly subject themselves to abiding by the
expectations and the rules (spoken or unspoken) of the
denominations or groups which make it difficult, if not altogether
impossible, to hold fast the headship of Christ!  

May the Lord grant us vision in this most important element of our
sonship—the
headship of Christ.  May the Lord grant us mercy that
we would not sell our birthright—sonship, for a bowl of soup.  

Furthermore, something must be said about the name Tola, for it
means “a worm,” but it is no ordinary worm.  It is a scarlet worm the
body fluid of which, when pressed, is collected to dye clothes red in
ancient times.  It is the same word used in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a
worm (tola), and not a man….”  

By all accounts, Psalm 22 describes the suffering and agony of Jesus
as He hung on the cross, and David, under the influence of the Spirit
felt the pain of his Savior, prophetically uttered these words.  So
what is sonship but that which is
birthed out of the travails of the
cross
?  Concerning this point perhaps Paul puts it best: “For we know
that the whole creation groans in travail together until now.  And not
only this, but we ourselves also, having the first fruits of the Spirit,
even we ourselves groan and travail within ourselves, waiting eagerly
for sonship, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:22, 23).  

The mark of sonship is the mark of the cross.  The effectual working
of the cross is the termination of anything natural, not just anything
bad.  But secretly we harbor this thought: only our bad self deserves
the dealings of the cross; our good self can be put to good use for
the Lord.  Well, perish the thought.  Perish the self!  Sonship can
only be attained through the deep and slow process of the cross.  

If the Son is only designated the first-born Son in resurrection (Acts
13:33), how can we drag our old creation into sonship?  So, shall we
learn the lesson from Tola trusting the work of the Spirit to lead us
through the cross onto resurrection ground?  And as the Captain of
our salvation who is made perfect through sufferings, likewise we
shall be brought forth as the “many sons” being led into glory through
much afflictions. This takes us to our next person in Judges 10—Jair
who had many sons.  

Unlike Tola who descended from a line of sons, no genealogy was
attributed to Jair except he had “thirty sons.”  So the emphasis with
Jair is not in the vertical relationship but in the horizontal
relationship.  Vertical relationship must come first, then the
horizontal one.  This order is essential; for without a direct and
personal relationship with the Lord first, our fellowship and
relationship with the saints will always lead us into confusion and a
false sense of spirituality.  Once a normal and intimate relationship
with the Lord is established, we should spontaneously desire
fellowship with the saints.  

No Christian can have a normal Christian life without fellowship with
other believers.  There are Christians who try to project themselves
as being spiritual by staying aloof—the mystics seem to be so
intimate with the Lord that they are enshrouded in a mystical fog of
impenetrable mist.  Others, who have no first-hand subjective
experience and knowledge of the Lord, rely solely on the teachings
and guidance of the leaders and commit similar errors.  How we need
a proper order and a proper balance!  

It is not a co-incidence that Tola came before Jair; the vertical must
precede the horizontal.  I’ll say again, if our relationship with the
Lord (vertical) is proper, we should have burden for “thirty sons”
(horizontal).  We should be burdened that many others also come
into the reality of sonship so that all the “one-talented” members
would rise up to pursue the Lord and function in the church.  Starting
from a burden for the gospel—that sinners would repent and become
children of God, we must continue until travailing takes place so that
children mature into sons.  

One of the saddest things in Christendom is the shallow and
distorted understanding of the gospel.  The much-trumpeted “Great
Commission” only emphasizes the initial salvation with no vision
what so ever about God’s eternal plan and purpose, not to mention
sonship, kingdom, reigning and glory!  Small wonder that Christian
churches everywhere look for great leaders, because the gospel they
preach and receive does not foster sonship; and since the church is
full of infants, they naturally need a strong leader to hold up the tent
and feed them milk.  This is how “Clergy-Laity System” comes into
being.  

No, I am not saying the church can only be consisted of strong
Christians.  Every church has her share of stronger and weaker
saints.  But I am saying the spiritual responsibilities and functions of
the church should NOT rest in the hands of the clergy or “full-time
workers.”  Neither should the services of the church be made into a
“program” handed down from the Pastor’s Office.  As long as the
“Clergy” is in place, there could hardly be the “thirty sons.”  When the
churches are known for their preachers, not to mention some that are
even named after the preachers, sonship will be illusive, and God’s
eternal purpose a far cry.  

The Lord Jesus was not just the “only begotten Son,” He was also the
“first-born Son” indicating many more to come.  He is “leading many
sons into glory,” and “we have come…to the church of the first-born
ones” (Heb. 12:23, literal).  So what is the church?  The church is
where the “first-born ones” gather.  The church is where everyone is
burdened to be a son and burdened that everyone else also becomes
a son.  Thirty sons, we need thirty sons!  The church is where thirty
sons come forth.  Dear saints, is there a fellowship of “thirty sons”
where you assemble?  Or is the emphasis only on the “pulpit
ministry”?  Dear Lord, burden us for “thirty sons”!  

Now the comical part: “thirty sons riding on thirty donkeys.”  What
does it mean?  In typology, donkey symbolizes human flesh:
“Ishmael is like a wild donkey.”  Ishmael is a product of the flesh.  
Our flesh is like a wild donkey!  But when our flesh is being dealt
with by the cross, and we are learning to be led by the Spirit, the
formation of sonship takes place.  “For all who are being led by the
Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).  

The entire chapter 7 of Romans is a warfare between flesh and
spirit.  But thank God, in chapter 8 we see the “thirty sons riding on
thirty donkeys” because the flesh has been subdued and sonship
emerges.  “For what the law could not do weak as it was through the
flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh
and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”  

Since the Son condemned sin in the flesh, we can claim the power
over sin in our flesh and start to ride on these “donkeys.”  Yes, ride
on!  Way to go, sons!  In Jesus’ so-called “triumphal entry” into
Jerusalem, what did He ride on?  A donkey!  This picture of Jesus
riding into Jerusalem while people spread their garments and palm
branches on the road shouting, “Hosanna,” is a preview of kingdom,
reigning and glory.  

We are the donkey that has been subdued and made into an
instrument to uphold the glory of God.  What honor!  What glory!  
Oh, that the wild, untamed, stubborn, foolish and filthy beastly
nature of man can be transformed into an upholder of the glory of
God!  The Son rides on a donkey.  Thirty sons ride on thirty donkeys.  
Is the Lord not trying to tell us that sonship is very much connected
to kingdom?  The Lord is interested in gaining many sons who are
learning to subdue the flesh by the cross so that the kingdom can be
ushered in.  

In Luke 19:11-26 Jesus told His disciples who were waiting for the
kingdom a parable: a nobleman went to a far country to receive a
kingdom…and he gave the one who gained ten more minas, authority
to rule over ten cities (in the kingdom), and the one who gained five
more minas, to rule over five cities (in the kingdom).

Now here in Judges 10:4 the thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys
ruled over thirty cities!  When sonship is possessed and the flesh
(donkey) is under subjection of the spirit, the ruling (kingdom) is at
once a reality.  How can anyone despise sonship?  How can anyone
continue to preach a shallow gospel which only produces infants with
no provision for sonship and no entrance into the kingdom?  How can
anyone not take sonship which is our portion seriously?  

Lastly, we come to Jephthah who is the “son of a harlot” (Judges 11:
1).  In a period of tremendous degradation and declension, the ones
who should be sons, who have all the “right stuff” to be sons, who
are seemingly connected to sonship, who can boast of the line of
orthodoxy, end up persecuting the ones who are not and do not have
the “right stuff.”  Jephthah, stripped of his dignity and sonship, was
forced to flee from his brothers with a band of “worthless fellows”
into the eastern desert until Israel was afflicted by the Ammonites;
and Jephthah was invited back to deliver God’s people from the
enemy.  

As a parallel story, when David was hiding from Saul in the cave of
Addulam, a band of poor, indebted, lame and halt gathered around
him.  Were they not also the “worthless fellows”?  In the same way,
Jesus made Himself poor and of ill-repute, a friend of sinners and
prostitutes for our sake.  We, the real worthless fellows must also
follow Him outside the camp.  

Dear saints, have you been despised, evil-spoken of, persecuted, and
stripped of sonship?  Do not despair, for so they also persecuted the
Lord.  Let us also follow Him into the desert.  It was not known what
Jephthah did or how long he stayed in the land of Tob.  We can only
empathize what pain he must have suffered there.  When the Lord
fashions a vessel unto honor, does He not humble him and take him
through fiery trials first?  

The Lord does desire that all His children assume the sonship and
reach full maturity.  But the problem is, when we acquire a little
experience of the cross which results in brokenness and spirituality
and leads to a little taste of fullness and maturity, and we come into
a measure of the reality of His eternal purpose, we become proud.  
We despise and reject the ones who do not possess sonship.  A brief
glance of Church history reveals that many Christians and groups
have been brought into sonship, the inheritance of the fullness of
Christ, but soon afterwards pride came in and the testimony was
ruined.  

Even today, one does not have to look far to see persecution and
backbiting among God’s people.  On the one hand we are awed to
see the ones who have been shown God’s full purpose in sonship, on
the other hand we are saddened by the attitude of superiority and
the elitism that eclipse the effulgence of the testimony.  And the  
Lord's reaction to men’s pride is to raise up a “son of a harlot.”  He
will use the foolish things to shame the wise, the weak things to
shame the strong, the things that are not to bring to naught the
things that are.  What sobering thought!  

May we not be those who, having come so far, fall so low.  May we
deal with the Lord about His desire in sonship.  May we ask the Lord
for a vision of sonship.  May we learn to embrace the travails of the
cross which produce sonship.  Lord, may You raise up many sons.  
May You grant us the desire for sonship.  Lord, deliver Your people
from the Ammonites—raise up many “sons of harlots,” and may You
humble us and subdue us so that the kingdom and the glory may be
the portion of all Your sons.  Amen.  

Oliver Peng,  
Houston, Texas

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