MESSAGE FOR APRIL 28, 2002 FROM JUDGES 1:1-2:5

(First in a series of messages from Judges)

 

            This morning we begin a new series of messages from the Old Testament book of Judges.  We’re not sure who wrote this book.  Samuel has been suggested as a possible author, but we simply don’t know.  The events of the book begin after the death of Joshua and progress to just before the ministry of Samuel and Israel’s first king, Saul.  Up to this point God has repeatedly shown to the Jews his faithfulness and his power.  He has miraculously brought the Jews out of Egypt and faithfully preserved them during their 40 years in the desert.  He has begun to show his military might by driving out the first of the Canaanite nations before the Jews.  He has displayed his dazzling power and sufficiency by bringing down the seemingly impenetrable walls of Jericho without the aid of one arrow or siege ramp.  He had shown again and again that he would be faithful to drive out these foreign nations from the Promised Land as long as his people looked to Him and trusted in Him.

            However, as time passes and Joshua nears the end of his life, the zeal of the Jews to  finish taking possession of the Promised Land begins to wane.  Three of the twelve tribes had already conquered their territory on the east side of the Jordan, but after their initial success the Jews don’t seem to have much urgency in moving to the other land occupied by the Canaanites west of the Jordan river.  They had apparently lost some of their original intensity and zeal for conquest.  In Joshua chapter 18:3 we read, “So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?  In the final chapter of Joshua, the Jews renew their covenant relationship with Yahweh and vow to remain faithful to Him.  They agreed to throw away the statues of the foreign gods that have already made their way into their belongings and they vow to never turn away from Yahweh to serve any other foreign god.  When the book of Judges opens they are preparing to move into the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan in obedience to the Lord’s command to destroy the current pagan inhabits of the land.  They are preparing to go into the Promised Land tribe by tribe to take possession of the specific allotment of land God had promised to each of them.  That is where we meet them as we move into the book of Judges. 

            The events described in the book of Judges encompass a time period of about 300 years and describe a season of Jewish history when God was recognized both spiritually and politically as the King of Israel.  Yahweh was the King and the people were to submit to him within the covenant relationship.  Tragically, the book of Judges records a long and shameful series of sinful rebellions against Yahweh by the Jewish people.  We repeatedly see a cycle beginning with the Jews rebelling against God by worshipping the pagan gods of the neighboring Canaanites.  This is followed by a season of their oppression by the pagan city-states around them which causes them to cry out to the Lord.  In response to their cry, God repeatedly raises up judges to lead Israel.  These judges main task is military in nature.  God uses them to beat back the oppressing foreign powers and his deliverance allows Israel to dwell once again in safety.  Those seasons of relative calm after they have been delivered are followed by yet another cycle of the Jews rebelling against God through their idolatry, the foreign states oppressing them again, the Jews crying out to God and God raising up yet another judge to bring deliverance from the oppressor.  That cycle is repeated again and again in Judges.

            The book of Judges records an unmistakably downward spiral of spiritual decline to the point where the spiritual state of the people of Israel at the end of the book of Judges is one of the lowest points in the biblical history of Israel.  Although all of the judges are flawed and weak in many ways, as the book progresses, they become increasingly more corrupt until, by the time we meet Samson in chapter 13, we encounter a horribly self-centered and corrupt leader.  The declining spiritual condition of the successive judges mirrors the spiritual decline of the Jews as a people.  This is so much so that, as we move into the concluding chapters of this book, we encounter the Jews in the midst of hideous acts of rebellion against God that rank among the most grotesque examples of human depravity recorded in all of sacred scripture.  

            There is obviously much more to be said about the background of this book, but we will see more as we go along.  Let’s read the first part of the book we will examine beginning with verse one of chapter one.  The author begins, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, "Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?"  2The Lord answered, "Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands."  3Then the men of Judah said to the Simeonites their brothers, "Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours." So the Simeonites went with them.  4When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.  7Then Adoni-Bezek said, "Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them." They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.  8The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.  9After that, the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). 12And Caleb said, "I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher." 13Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.  14One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, "What can I do for you?"  15She replied, "Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water." Then Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.  16The descendants of Moses' father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.  17Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their brothers and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah. 18The men of Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron--each city with its territory.  19The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots. 20As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. 21The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.  22Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, "Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well." 25So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.  27But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. 29Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. 31Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, 32and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. 33Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. 34The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. 36The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.  2:1The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you."  4When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.

            This is such a rich text we’re going to spend two weeks here, but let’s today focus on one important spiritual principle that can encourage us in our relationship with God.  The principle you will see emerge from this text is this:  God never removes his sovereign hand from his people.  We need to explain how this principle is seen in this text, but as we move along, you will see the beauty of this.  This principle is seen in how the author shows the predominance of one tribe over all the others and that tribe is Judah.  We see this in at least three ways.  We see it first in the fact that verses 2-20—19 total verses are devoted to Judah’s conquest of the territory God had promised to them and Simeon.  In contrast to that comparatively expansive treatment, the other tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim (whom the author refers to as “the house of Joseph” in verses 22 and 35), Benjamin, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali and Dan—the combined exploits of those seven tribes are contained in just 15 verses.  When we see that kind of disparity we must understand there is a reason why the author is doing that.  He is showing the predominance of Judah over the other tribes.

            The predominance of Judah over the other tribes is seen secondly in the unique way in which Judah dealt with their Canaanite enemies.  God had given the command in Deuteronomy 7:2 as to how the conquest of these pagan nations.  He said, “And when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.  Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”  These Canaanite people had been sinning against God in hideous, gruesome ways for hundreds of years.  God had mercifully waited for them to repent and they had not done so.  Now, their corruption and grotesque sin has so polluted the land they must be purged from the land and the only way that could be done is to destroy them totally—all of them.  No vestige was to be left of their wicked, pagan ways or culture.  The incredible, longsuffering patience of God has run out and his will on this matter was clearly revealed to the Jews.  God would destroy his enemies and use the Jews to do it.  They had followed this practice of totally destroying God’s enemies with the nations east of the Jordan and now they were to continue it west of the river.

            As you read this text, it becomes clear that of all the tribes, the only ones who were able, even in part to, carry this out were Judah and Simeon.  We see in verse 21 that Benjamin was unable to dislodge the Jebusites from the northern part of Jerusalem, but in verse eight, notice that, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it.  They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.”  Though King David had to re-take Jerusalem in 2 Samuel five, its clear that Judah has been more faithful to the Lord as it relates to the conquest of Jerusalem than Benjamin.  Judah successfully destroyed Debir in verse 11 and also Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron according to verse18.  They also helped Simeon take Zephath and it was renamed Hormah.  The name Hormah means “totally destroyed” which helps us to see that, at least some of the time, the people of Judah were faithful to the Lord’s command to totally destroy the pagan inhabitants of the land.

            Contrast Judah’s dominance over their enemies and their destruction of many of their enemies with the other seven tribes mentioned.  The sad accounts of the impotence of the other tribes is in stark contrast to the strength and comparative faithfulness of Judah.  In verse 27 we read, “But Manasseh did not drive out the people…” Verse 29, “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer…” Verse 30, “neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites…” Verse 31, “Nor did Asher drive out those…” Verse 33, “Neither did Naphtali drive out…” Verse 34 says, “The Amorites confined the Danites (from the tribe of Dan) to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.  Some of the tribes were able to force the Canaanites into some form of slavery but they did not in any way obey the command to totally destroy these people.

A third way the unique strength of Judah is seen is in verse 20 where Caleb of Judah drives out the sons of Anak whose names are given in verse 10.  If we are familiar with the book of Numbers, that term “the sons of Anak” should leap off the page to us.  The reason is because if you go back to Numbers 13 you’ll remember the spies who Moses had 40 years earlier sent into the Promised Land brought back a bad report, telling Moses and the Jews they should not fight against these pagan nations.  One reason why 10 of the 12 spies refused to trust God and go in and take the land was because (Numbers 13:28), “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.  We even saw the descendants of Anak there.”  The men descended from Anak were big dudes of almost mythical proportions and they struck fear into the hearts of the 10 unbelieving spies.  However, here in Judges one it is the tribe of Judah under Caleb’s leadership who drove out the Anakites and in so doing vindicate Caleb who decades earlier as one of two faithful spies, had not been afraid of these giants. Again, the author includes those details to tell us something.

            The question is why does the Holy Spirit lead the author to so clearly emphasize the superiority of Judah over the other tribes?  The answer is found in the principle we stated earlier.  That is, God never removes his sovereign hand from his people.  Let’s explain that.  Why did Judah enjoy much more success than the other tribes here?  Was it because they did everything the Lord commanded?  NO.  Although they were much better than the other tribes, they made at least three significant blunders.  First, they allowed the King of Bezek to live.  Instead of killing him as the Lord had commanded through Moses, they followed the prevailing Ancient Near Eastern cultural practice of mutilating him to humiliate and incapacitate him, but they did not kill him.  Judah’s second failure is in verse 16 where they allowed the Kenites, another foreign city-state to join with them and then settle down among the other pagan peoples.  Finally, they failed in verse 19 to destroy the inhabitants of the plain because the Canaanites in that flat area had iron chariots and were technologically superior.  Let me ask you, how much impact should the technological superiority of their enemies have on the army of God?  This is a God who brought down Jericho with its massive walls with not one ounce of military help from the Jews. Iron chariots should not have been a significant challenge for a people who were fully trusting God to fight for them.

            The reason Judah is spotlighted here, as having more success than the other tribes didn’t have anything to do with Judah, it had to do with God’s sovereign plan for Judah.  We must remember that when we come to any text in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, we are coming to one single historical moment in salvation history.  At root, the bible is a history of redemption and we should always read it with the understanding that this history is controlled by God and one point in that history like this one here in Judges is only one moment in a much bigger flow of historical events that are predetermined by God to lead somewhere—to Jesus.  The history of redemption’s ultimate moment comes when Jesus Christ appears on the stage in history.  The rest of biblical history points to him.  Jesus himself said in John chapter five that the Old Testament scriptures are all about him.  The flow of biblical history dramatically builds up to Jesus and God sovereignly controls the flow of history to that end.

            What that means is when we come to a text like Judges 1, we should look and see how this moment in biblical history points to Jesus.  And this text does indeed point to Christ and we see that in the fact that the author highlights the supremacy of Judah over against all the other tribes.  Let’s survey the flow of biblical history as it relates to Judah to see how this event in Judges fits in. We see the flow of history where Judah is concerned beginning in the bible back in Genesis 49 when about 700 years earlier Jacob gives his various blessings to his twelve sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. He says of his son Judah in verse eight through 10, “Judah, your brothers will praise you;  your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you.  9You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?  10The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. 

            What this tells us is that the account in Judges chapter displaying Judah’s predominance over the other tribes is simply the natural outworking of God working his sovereign, predetermined plan through Judah that He had initiated through the blessing of Judah by Jacob, which he sovereignly controlled.  Judah in Judges chapter one is simply fulfilling God’s sovereign plan for it.  That’s a look back at the salvation history of Judah.  As we look forward, we see that David will come from Judah and will become the King of Israel thus fulfilling God’s sovereign will that, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet…”  David was the Old Testament figure who most clearly points to Christ as the Great King over all.  It is also no mere coincidence that Jesus too comes out of Judah giving the ultimate and final fulfillment that Judah would provide leadership to the entire world through Christ which we will see fulfilled when Jesus comes back to rule on earth.  David ruled over Jerusalem in Judah and Christ will rule over the New Jerusalem, which will transcend Judah and the entire Jewish people.

            Do you see how this one tiny historical account of Judah is one thread in a divinely woven tapestry of salvation history?  It is but one historical point in the flow of salvation history that began in the mind of God in eternity past, was brought to earth through the blessing of Jacob, continues here in the conquest of Canaan and flows through the reign of David and ultimately finds its fulfillment in Christ and his rule.  This predominance of Judah in Judges one is simply part of the historical flow that will eventuate in the utter dominance of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ.  And all of this history—past, present and future is under the sovereign control of God. Not one minute, not one millisecond of those seven centuries between Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis 49 and Judges one was left to chance—God was in control of the flow of history.  God wanted Judah to be predominant and so Judah was.

            Likewise, in the 350 years between these events in Judges one and the emergence of King David God is also in total control.  God is also sovereignly working out his will in the 1000 years between King David and the birth of Christ.  In every moment, He was sovereignly working out his plan of redemption in history.  Finally, in the 2000 years since Christ and in whatever time is ahead of us before return of the Lion of Judah’s tribe not one blink of an eye will be left open to chance or human error. God has his plan laid out and he is at work.  In Isaiah 46:10 God says, “I make know the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say:  My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.”

            What this means for us is God is not circumscribed by the turmoil in the Middle East or by wicked despots like Saddam Hussein.  In fact, he is controlling those historical developments to work his redemptive plan in the world. Although we are called to pray about those things, we have no need to be in fear of the countless worst-case scenarios we hear being tossed around these days.  God is in control and he will be ultimately glorified in all of this.  We can rest in his sovereign control of human history.  Neither is God’s arm weakened by the turmoil in our own individual lives.  Whatever you are facing today, know this.  Even though it may feel like it, your life is not spinning out of God’s control.  God has things well in hand and He will work his plan of redemption for you using all your pain and all your trauma and all your loss for his good and perfect plan for us.  He is still the Author of history and he will not allow his story to be edited by anyone else. 

            We must remember that just as the events in Judges chapter one were only one point in a much bigger plan, so also where we are today in our lives is also part of God’s sovereign plan to make us more like Christ and to bring Him glory.  It’s so easy for us to focus on the pain or the chaos of the moment and become overwhelmed by it.  In those moments, we must step back and look at the God of history who is working his good plan for us.  We certainly won’t understand all of what happens to us in this life, but we can rest assured that the same God who flawlessly worked his plan in the history of a tribe of people descended from a son of Jacob named Judah and a descendent of Judah named Jesus is still working his plan of redemption for us.  And we can rest in his good, perfect and acceptable will.  May God give us the grace to trust and rest in the God of history’s plan for our lives.

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