MESSAGE FOR MAY 5, 2002 FROM Judges 1-2

(2nd in a series from the book of Judges)

 

            This week, we continue our series from the Old Testament book of Judges.  Last week as we began our trek through Judges, we gave some background information needed to better understand this book.  You’ll remember the events in this book occur between the death of Joshua and the beginning of Samuel’s ministry, a period of about 300 years.  The tribes of Israel have already conquered the land east of the Jordan and have killed the pagan inhabitants in obedience to the Lord’s command.  They are preparing to move into the land west of the Jordan when Judges opens.  There was no king in Judah during this time—that would come later when Samuel anoints Saul as the first king, but God did raise up judges for Israel.  These judges were primarily military leaders God gave to Israel to liberate them from the Canaanites who would repeatedly oppress them and force them into slavery.  God allowed this foreign oppression as a way to discipline his people because they were persistently abandoning Him in favor of the gods of the Canaanites.  This cycle of Jewish rebellion against God followed by foreign oppression followed by God delivering the Jews through the various judges he raises up is repeated throughout the book.  As the book progresses the spiritual health of Israel steadily degenerates until by the end of the book, we are at one of the lowest spiritual points of Old Testament history.  The fact that the Jews even survived as a nation during the period of the Judges is a testimony to the depth of God’s grace and patience.   Though they seem bent on a direction of self-destruction, but God repeatedly delivers them. Praise God that he is still in the business of delivering people who seem bent on self-destruction

            As we saw last week from Judges 1, the author works hard to draw a contrast between the tribe of Judah, the first tribe to move into the Promised Land west of the Jordan and all the other tribes.  Though far from perfect in their conquest of the land that had been allotted to them, Judah is clearly pictured as stronger and more faithful than the other tribes.  Whereas Judah was more zealous in destroying the resident Canaanites, the other tribes were largely unsuccessful at purging them from the land.  The other tribes made deals with these pagans and in some cases were simply unable to conquer them at all.  Most of the other tribes found themselves settling for making the Canaanites their slaves.  They did not destroy these people with their foreign gods as Yahweh had commanded.

            The author wants us to see how different Judah is from the other tribes because this predominance of Judah is part of God’s plan in salvation history.  We saw that Jacob, back in Genesis 49 blessed Judah so that they would be the leader of the twelve tribes.  He blessed Judah saying, “The 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.”  The rulers of Israel would come out of Judah and we see this fulfilled when David from the tribe of Judah is crowned King and becomes the great King pointing to Christ.  Jesus was also from this tribe and will completely fulfill the blessing of Jacob when he comes back to rule the earth.  Then the “obedience of the nations” will belong to the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  What we took from all that is that in spite of all the chaos of the book of Judges and in spite of all the chaos in the world today and in our lives, God continues to relentlessly work his sovereign plan for this world and for our own lives.  Just as Judah followed his plan, so too will this world and so too will he accomplish his purpose for us in Christ.

Last week, we saw that we must read the Old Testament text through a lens of redemptive or salvation history.  We should come to the Old Testament texts asking the question, “How do these verses point to Jesus and the gospel?”  This week we see another lens through which to read the Old Testament.  Paul gives us this lens in 1 Corinthians 10.  Paul is in the midst of warning the Corinthians against being influenced by the pagan culture in Corinth with its idolatry and sexual immorality.  He reminds these believers how God broke out in judgment upon the idolatry and immorality in the Old Testament during the time of Moses.  He says in verse 7 and following, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9We should not test the Lord, as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. 10And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel.”

            Now, listen how Paul interprets those events in the history of Old Testament Israel in verse 11,  11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”  This is an astonishing statement.  Paul says the reason (or at least ONE reason) God judged those people so harshly was because he was laying down examples for us!  The reason the Holy Spirit put these accounts in the Old Testament according to Paul was for them to serve as warnings for those who would come in the new age of the Spirit inaugurated by His Son.  Again we see how God, who knows the end from the beginning, writes history from the end to the beginning.  God chastised Israel for their idolatry and sexual immorality 1400 before Christ in part so that the Corinthians in 55 A.D. and we in 2002 A.D. would be able to learn how God hates our tendency toward idolatry and sexual immorality.  That means when we read Old Testament texts recounting the great sins of God’s people and His severe chastisement of them, those should serve as warnings to us.  Last week, we saw that we were to read the Old Testament through the lens of salvation history.  This week, we discover that we are also to read the Old Testament through a moral history lens.  We should learn from the sins of the Old Testament people of God and how God responded to them and receive those accounts as warnings to us.

            You’ll recall, in the first 20 verses of Judges chapter one the author recounts Judah’s comparative strength and faithfulness to purge the pagans from the land.  They were far from perfect, however.  Last week, we saw at least three of their major failures so it would be a mistake to consider their conquest of the Promised Land a ringing success, but it must be said they were much more faithful than the other tribes.  The dismal failures of those tribes are related in 1:21-36.  The author lists these tribes one by one, moving in a northerly direction from Judah in the south and recounts their failures to purge the land of its wicked inhabitants.  In chapter 2:1-5, the author gives us God’s response to this horribly botched military operation.  We read, “The 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, and 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?  Now 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.”  When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim.  There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.”

            Now, if we try to approach this text from the moral history lens Paul gives us in First Corinthians 10, which tells us to take texts like this as a warning, what does this text mean to us?  What is there from this text we can relate to in the church 2002 years later when we live NOT in a political and geographical kingdom and not only are we not called to drive any Canaanites from the land, but we have in fact been intentionally placed right smack in the middle of a world of godless people and are told to influence them for Christ?  What are the points of contact for us in this text and what warning should we take from here?

            Here’s one answer.  God called the Jews to conquer the land from the pagans, killing them off with their godless influences and live there to show the surrounding nations what their God was like as they lived under his powerful and beneficent rule as his political and geographical kingdom.  Their covenant relationship with Yahweh was an exclusive one.  In other words, they were not to worship or seek after any other gods and that meant no prolonged, close contact with people who served other gods.  Tragically, they did not kill them but cohabitated with them in violation of their covenant relationship with Yahweh.  They were commissioned as one scholar puts it to, “reshape the world after the image of Yahweh’s will” but they instead chose to “live in and with the world, and before long they have taken on the characteristics of the world.” 

            Because they chose not to do the hard work of working with God to drive the pagans from the land, God warns them that these Canaanites would from that time forward be “thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”  This was precisely what happened to them and we see this not only in the rest of the book of Judges but frankly throughout the rest of the entire Old Testament.  The failure of the tribes at this moment in Israel’s history sets the course for the rest of Old Testament history.  Look at this map of the twelve tribes.  (MAP OF TWELVE TRIBES ON SCREEN).  Notice Judah who was more faithful is in the south and the other tribes are in north.  Now, let’s fast forward ahead 400 years to when the nation of Israel was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms.  (MAP OF DIVIDED KINGDOM ON SCREEN)  Notice Judah is in the south and is made up of only two tribes—Judah (by far the largest) and tiny Benjamin.  The Northern Kingdom is made up of the other 10 northerly tribes.

            As you read through the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles, it becomes apparent that, though both kingdoms eventually forsook God and were taken into foreign captivity, the southern kingdom of Judah was much more faithful and much more blessed by God.  We see this in many ways. First, the northern tribe of Israel only existed as an autonomous state for a little over 200 years before the Assyrians conquered them and deported them because of their great idolatry.  Judah, the southern tribe survived 136 years after Israel had been taken captive before their sin finally did them in and they were carted off to Babylon.  So the southern kingdom was spared God’s judgment much longer than the northern kingdom.  Second, in the much shorter history of the northern kingdom, they had 19 kings who reigned an average of only eleven years each.  All 19 kings were bad, not one of them followed God—they were all apostate.  Judah in a much longer time period had only 12 kings (and one wicked queen) and of the bunch, seven followed in varying degrees after God and only six were wicked.  Granted, that’s six more than what pleased God, but it’s a far cry from Israel.  The kings of Judah reigned an average of more than 26 years which points to the much greater level of political stability that existed in Judah. [TURN OFF MAP OF DIVIDED KINGDOM]

            How do you account for these significantly different national fortunes as you compare the kingdoms of Israel and Judah?  Part of the answer to that question is found right here in Judges.  God said that the Canaanites who were left in the land would be thorns in their sides and their gods would be a snare to them.  That is, they would seduce the people to follow after them instead of Yahweh.  Remember, the northern kingdom was predominantly made up of these tribes who in Judges chapter one almost totally failed to purge the godless influences from their land.  Because there was a much higher concentration of these pagan influences and therefore these spiritual thorns and snares in the north, is it any wonder why the northern kingdom was so much weaker spiritually than the southern kingdom of Judah?  It is equally true that the influence of the smaller concentration of pagans in the southern kingdom proved to be the eventual undoing of them as well, but because they were less concentrated their toxic influence took longer to defile the southern kingdom.  There are doubtless other reasons why the northern and southern kingdoms responded differently to Yahweh, but a crucial reason is found right here in this Judges text.  The northern tribe’s failure to make any serious dent in the pagan influence of the Canaanites proved to be absolutely pivotal in that nation’s history for the next 500 years!  The lesson for us is simple:  There are long-standing consequences to spiritual compromise.  Our compromises can and do impact our lives, our marriages, our kids and even our great, great grandchildren.

Now. Let’s apply this to us and see how this Old Testament text can be serve as a warning to us.  First, let’s notice the parallels between us in the church and the Jews in God’s Old Testament kingdom.  We in the church have also been redeemed out of the bondage, not the bondage of Egypt but the bondage of sin.  That redemption has come by the blood of Jesus-- the blood of the covenant in his New Covenant relationship with us.  Unlike the Jews, we are specifically commissioned to live as God’s community within a pagan, lost world to be salt and light and to conquer/overcome Satan’s kingdom by living faithfully to God and spreading His light by living the truth and speaking the truth.  As we do this, it will show the people around us what our God is like as we live under his gracious, beneficent rule.  Our covenant with God like the Old Covenant is also exclusive.  We are to have only one God and Jesus says, “no man can serve two masters.”  God is to reign unchallenged in our hearts.  We however have not been called to kill the pagans around us because the kingdom of God is no longer political and geographic, but spiritual and the place where we are called to allow God to reign is within our hearts.

Given that, this text tells us that we are called to ruthlessly kill off—to violently purge from our hearts ALL the pagan influences which war against us and seek to turn us away from God through compromise.  If we choose not to kill off these pagan influences, they will, like the Canaanites in the Promised Land, bring us into bondage and be a snare to us as we seek to follow God.  They will weaken our witness of the glorious God we serve.  Judges chapter one and the rest of the Old Testament serve as a solemn warning against compromise with the idolatrous aspects of this world because they can do these same things to us spiritually as they did to the Jews.  Paul issues a warning in the New Testament that sounds very consistent with what we have just heard.  Ephesians 5:5 says, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” [NASB] 

The Old Testament Jews failed to purge the land of the corrupt Canaanite influences and it eventually led them into compromise and their compromise brought the covenant curse of God on them and they were exiled from their land.  Those who claim to be believers under the New Covenant and yet consistently refuse to purge their hearts of the corrupt, worldly influences and the compromise it brings will bring the everlasting curse of God on themselves.  They will show that they were not believers in Jesus.  We must see this because all of us have areas of struggle and bondage.

If, when you watch television—even so called clean television (and just because a particular program is clean and informative, that doesn’t mean the commercials are) you lose your spiritual sensitivity or it causes you to lust sexually—then purge the influence from your home and get rid of the tube.  Tear down the idol what you have set up in your heart.  If you struggle with coveting—that is to say, no matter how nice your car is, no matter how well your house is decorated, no matter how many features your electronic computer or gadget has, you are never satisfied—you are always wanting more and better and newer, then eliminate those corrupting influences and dramatically simplify your life.  If your career has taken your heart captive and you can see that in how much time it takes from you and what you always think about when you shave or put your makeup on—repent of the idol of workaholism.  Whatever it is in your life that is consistently bringing compromise into your heart, drawing you slowly away from God and the Holy Spirit has pointed it out to you but you are pretending not to hear—take the solemn warning from the history of Old Testament Israel and cast it down at the foot of the cross.  Know the liberation Jesus can bring you.

            Whether you are reading the Old Testament through the salvation history lens we looked at last week or the moral history lens of this week, both lenses cause us to end up at Jesus and the gospel.  In the salvation historical lens, Jesus is the point to which all the Old Testament is written—as the Savior, he is the obvious climax of salvation history—as the Redeemer, he is the fulfillment of the history of redemption.  But the moral history lens also always terminates in the gospel and Jesus as well.  Because as we see our failures and compromises as we foolishly allow the pagan influences of this world to invade our lives, we know our only hope is the forgiveness offered through the blood of Jesus, which washes away our sins and compromises.  As we see the spiritual bondage in our lives because of our compromise with the pagan influences with the world, the only way we can get free and stay free is by the blood of the Lamb.  It offers not only forgiveness of the penalty of sin but also freedom from the enslaving power of sin.  We can be liberated from our spiritual bondage—he came to set the captives free—“he whom the son has set free is free indeed.”  If we are obedient to God by his grace to purge the idols from our lives we can know the moment-by-moment freedom that comes through the blood of Jesus.

            Are we ruthlessly killing off the sources of idolatry and compromise in our lives?  Or, are we allowing them to linger, pretending not to hear God’s word of warning?  Are these things gradually reducing our hunger for God as we fill our bellies with the husks of this world?  Do we think we can keep our idols, enjoying them when we want and still faithfully walk with God?  The children of Israel tried that and the results are not encouraging.  They went down in almost total destruction.  Their idols sucked the spiritual life out of them and God removed their sorry tribes from his good land.  Even Judah, who did a better, but not good job of purging the idols from the land eventually went down in flames because the influence of the few pagans they left in the land did what unchecked pagan influences always do—they grew and grew until they fully captured their hearts and brought them under the curse of God.

            The lesson is clear—we must be ruthless in our purging of the worldly influences in our lives.  Our example is found in God telling the Jews, “Kill em ALL—don’t leave one standing because if you do, they will seduce you away from me.”  What are those areas where the Holy Spirit has been convicting us that we need to make a break with sin but we have chosen to ignore his persistent promptings?  We dismiss the thought of purging that particular thing or person or influence from our lives because “It’s too extreme,” “too many people would have a fit if we did that,” “its not really that big a deal—someday, later when its easier I will do that.”   It never gets easy.  Jonathan Edwards said, “Sin is naturally exceedingly dear to us; to part with it is compared to plucking out our right eyes.  Men may refrain from[certain] ways of sin for a little while, and may deny their lusts in a partial degree, with less difficulty; but it is heart-rending work, finally to part with all[the] sin, and to give our dearest lusts a bill of divorce, utterly to send them away.  But this we must do, if we would follow those that are truly turning to God…”

 It may be the television or other media we expose yourself to—it may be friends we have made who always pull us down—it may be the inappropriate way we relate to our spouse—it may be that we have refused to make solid time available for God each day or it may be 1000 other things.  But we know God is calling us to remove it from our lives and we have refused.  We must not miss the warning of the Jews—remove the evil from your midst or the evil can destroy you.  May God give us the grace to radically, violently purge the compromising influences from our lives so that we might live forever in the Promised Land of God’s peace and love and joy.

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