CONCLUDING MESSAGE ON JUDGES FOR JANUARY 12, 2002
This week we conclude our series of messages from the book of Judges. Part of my goal in this series was to enable us to see the richness and the blessing that comes when we study the Old Testament. Too many Christians read only the New Testament and forget that the only Bible Jesus and Paul and the apostles had was the Old Testament. We should not be intimidated by the Old Testament but instead learn to mine it for the gold that is there. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “ALL Scripture is God breathed and is USEFUL for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If we want to be equipped to work in the kingdom we need the Old Testament and should learn to savor it as the word of God. The book of Judges is especially valuable to the evangelical church today because its main message is the sad story of the paganizing of God’s people. The book is all about the sad fact of history that God’s people during this time became indistinguishable from the people around them in the world. They had ceased to be distinctive and holy as God’s people.
Dan Block rightly divides into three parts the book’s treatment of this paganizing of the Jews. Here’s a brief summary of the book’s message divided into these three parts. The first section is from chapter one to the first six verses of chapter three. This section gives the background to the paganizing of God’s people. Right at the beginning of the book the author sets the stage to explain how a group of people who had, under Joshua courageously entered the Promised Land and trusted God for many miraculous victories, could run so far from God. The author makes it clear that all the wretched sin and apostasy the people of God committed in this dark period of Israel’s history can be traced to their initial failure to drive out all the Canaanites from their midst. God had passed judgment on the Canaanites and their wretched sins and had sentenced them to death. He chose to carry out that sentence by use of the holy war, which he promised to fight for his people, as they trusted him to destroy the Canaanites. The faith of the Jews faltered however and tribe after tribe was unable to completely drive out the Canaanites from their midst. That gross failure on their part prevented them from living in a spiritually unpolluted atmosphere. God told the Jews way back in 2:3 that because they failed to fully cleanse the land of the pagan, Canaanite influences, “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." The rest of the book of Judges tells the tragic story of the fulfillment of that word of God.
And so we begin the second section of the book from 3:7-the end of chapter 16 where we see the paganizing of God’s people as this sad cycle of sin is repeated again and again. The people of God run from Yahweh to the carnal and sensual worship of their Canaanite gods. God responds by disciplining his wayward people by allowing them to fall into the oppressive hands of their cruel Canaanite neighbors. They are used, enslaved and mistreated by the Canaanites. After decades of this cruel oppression, the Jews cry out for deliverance to Yahweh. God graciously hears their cries and sends them a deliverer who liberates His people from the oppressive rule of the Canaanites. After a short time however, the Jews repeatedly run right back into the idolatry of their pagan neighbors. In response, God time after time brings his discipline by the cruel, Canaanite oppression, only to send yet another deliverer to his people when they have finally had enough and cry out to Him for help. That cycle is played out time and time again in this middle section of the book where God raised up one deliverer after another.
The first deliverer was Caleb’s nephew Othniel, the most faithful and successful judge in the book but about whom the author says very little. His deliverance brought peace for 40 years. Second came Ehud, a skilled warrior, spy and assassin who treacherously maneuvered his way into holding a private meeting with an enemy king, only to ruthlessly murder him with a lethal thrust of his knife. His victory, even though it was small scale compared to Othniel’s brought 80 more years of peace. The next major leader was actually a prophetess name Deborah. She and Othniel are the only characters in the book without major character flaws. Deborah’s heroism is put on display thanks to the timidity of the judge who served God during her time, a man named Barak. A frightened Barak coerced Deborah to accompany him as he led a military victory over a Canaanite king. Another woman named Jael won acclaim during this time as she drove a tent peg through the head of the enemy general, Sisera. Barak’s fear enabled these honorable women in the story to receive acclaim.
That takes us to chapter six where we meet another timid judge, Gideon. Gideon was given a personal call to the ministry by the angel of the Lord who greeted him by calling him a “mighty warrior.” Gideon was a skilled warrior but was a man of weak faith. Gideon’s unbelief caused him to require signs to believe God and God graciously performs three signs to strengthen Gideon’s faltering faith. His great victory over the Midianites with only 300 men with trumpets, jars and torches against an army of 135,000 is detailed in chapter seven. Gideon’s legacy is further tarnished by his son Abimelech who systematically slaughtered Gideon’s 70 other sons in a brutal political power grab. God repaid Abimelech for his wickedness through a woman in a tower who dropped a millstone on his head. Apart from his wicked son Abimelech, Gideon’s deliverance did lead to 40 years of peace in the land.
The Jews rebelled again and the next judge or deliverer the author gives us any real detail about is Jephthah beginning in chapter 10. Jephthah was from Gilead and was the son of a prostitute. His half-brothers treated him cruelly and he left home as a young man and became a marauder, using his extraordinary military skill to lead a group of mercenaries who followed him. His countrymen from Gilead begged him to come back and lead their own army when they found themselves attacked by the Ammonites. He agreed to come back after he managed to strike a deal with his desperate countrymen, forcing them into giving him the leadership of his region. He made war against the Ammonites and won a great victory but before the battle he made a reckless and evil vow to God. He vowed to sacrifice the first thing to greet him in his house upon his return home. As you remember, it was his virgin daughter who came out of his house to meet him. Instead of breaking his foolish vow and taking the consequences of that upon himself, he wickedly sacrificed his daughter a short time later.
The next major section is devoted to perhaps the most famous judge, Samson. Though Samson is portrayed in popular accounts as a larger-than-life superhero type, the actual biblical story of his life and ministry tells a story whose plot more closely resembles a cheap harlequin romance novel. The author paints a picture of a self-absorbed, arrogant man who uses his tremendous gifts for his own self-centered ends. Samson’s birth is attended by what was up to that time unprecedented fanfare. The angel of the Lord appeared to his parents before he was born to announce that was God going to enable this previously infertile couple to have a baby. He also tells them God had chosen this child to begin the deliverance from the oppression of the pagan Philistines. The Jews were evidently so corrupted by this time, they weren’t even crying out for a deliverer but in act of pure grace God provided one anyway for his wayward people. Samson’s parents were told to raise their child as a Nazirite from birth. That is, they were to raise him with uniquely stringent restrictions placed on his lifestyle—this would effect his diet and his drinking and it dictated that no razor was ever to touch his hair. God commanded that this boy be raised in a way that would make him uniquely separated to God, holy in a special sense all the days of his life.
As the story of Samson unfolds, we see him blatantly and repeatedly trashing his Nazirite vows as he lives a life that is anything BUT separated to God. He partied, he ate unclean food, he handled dead animals—all of which were forbidden to him. He was so compromised that he ended up marrying a Philistine women. He actually entered into a marriage covenant with a person from the people he was commissioned to destroy. Even though God’s grace was manifest in him through supernatural feats of physical strength, his life was horribly corrupt as we see him repeatedly surrendering to his selfish, sensual desires rather than any sense of divine calling. Still, in the midst of this miserably sinful context, God amazingly uses Samson’s own carnality to fulfill his promise that he would use Samson to begin to deliver the Jews from the Philistines. The only part of his Nazirite vow Samson had not compromised was the restriction on cutting his hair but he ultimately ends up selling out even that one remaining area of separation. That occurred when he revealed the divine source of his strength to Delilah, another pagan Philistine woman he had sinfully chosen to become involved with. This is Samson’s final undoing and he is captured, his eyes are put out and he is made a slave of the Philistines. The sad story of Samson ends with God one more time using his self-centered desire for revenge to kill 3000 Philistine men and women who were watching him perform as a side show freak. Just one of Samson’s tragic legacies is that he was more useful to God in death than he was in life.
Samson’s story ends the second section of the book in chapter 16 on the paganizing of the Jews. The third section of the book has been rightly categorized by Dan Block as the extent of the paganizing of the Jews. The first section prepares us for this horrible national apostasy—this running away from God. The second section chronicles it as we see this wretched cycle of sin and oppression and the third section helps us to see just how far this people had strayed from God by telling two more detailed and complex stories that show how pervasive and disgusting the society had become. The first story in chapters 17-18 shows the depth to which the religion and worship of the Jews had been corrupted. A man named Micah hires a traveling Jewish priest—a Levite to oversee his private pagan shrine and collection of pagan idols. He perversely believes this will ensure Yahweh’s blessing on him. This priest of God begins his twisted service for Micah but after awhile he leaves that venue for a larger audience.
Some misguided warriors from the tribe of Dan, who should have been driving the pagans from the land God had allotted to them, were instead seeking a place to settle where the pagan resistance was less stubborn. Along the way they met this priest and saw Micah’s impressive pagan shrine and equipment. On a subsequent visit they stole all his pagan religious holdings and tell the priest it would be much better for him to be the priest for a tribe rather than a priest for a single family. The corrupt priest liked that idea and set up a pagan stronghold in Dan that continued for centuries and became a major center of occult worship and idolatry for the Jews in Northern Israel. The worship and religion of Israel was thoroughly corrupt, which explains the events recorded in the final section of the book.
As we concluded the exposition of the last three chapters two weeks ago, we saw that the last three chapters tell a story of utterly disgusting attitudes and behavior that represent the general moral climate of Israel during this time. This story illustrates what becomes of a culture when there is no king—that is, when the people of God do not submit to God’s reign in their individual or corporate lives—when each person does what is right in their own eyes and follows the self-centered values of this world rather than the God-centered values of His kingdom. It’s a story of betrayal, perversion, carnage, deception and leaders who make disastrous decisions without God’s counsel that result in the nation nearly losing one of the twelve tribes. God uses the civil war that breaks out during this time to bring harsh discipline on his people and when the dust cleared the total body count had risen to more than 100,000 dead Jews.
That’s a brief survey of the book of Judges. It is a collection of depressing and tragic stories that spell out what happens when people who claim to be the people of God become more and more like the people around them. There are many invaluable lessons we can draw from this book. I want to dwell on one lesson but first we must briefly mention that the events in this book dramatically display the grace of God. This culture is rotten at its very core. Yet in spite of the fact that God’s people repeatedly and relentlessly run from God to the perverse and carnal pagan culture controlled by Satan, God sends them deliverers again and again to keep them from completely assimilating into the pagan culture around them. One of Satan’s favorite lies is to tell people, unbelievers as well as believers, that they are so sinful—that they have done something so wicked, they are disqualified from being one of God’s children. Or, at least that God could not possibly bless their life with all the sin they have racked up.
“God’s grace could in no way cover THAT sin, THAT lifestyle, THAT decision or THAT relationship. God is patient but he’s not THAT patient. He’s merciful but He’s not THAT merciful.” Does that sound familiar? The book of Judges and the amazing grace of God put on display there pierces that lie through the heart. If EVER in biblical history there was a group of people who for 300 years ran from God as far they could and as fast as they could it was these people in Judges. But God did not abandon even them. He relentlessly pursued them and though he disciplined them as a loving national Father, his grace floods the pages of this book. This truth about the depths of God’s grace should not embolden us to remain in sin but should cause us to run back into God’s loving arms and repent of our sin without having to first hurdle the lie that we are too evil to receive God’s forgiveness.
A second and major point of application from the book of Judges is it highlights the supremacy of Christ as our deliverer. When you compare the men God raised up to deliver Israel from the hands of their pagan oppressors with Christ our Great Deliverer it enables us to see more clearly his glorious uniqueness. We see at least three examples of the supremacy of Christ over these deliverers in Judges. First we see his moral perfection. The deliverers in this book are riddled with moral weakness. They are timid and insecure in their leadership. Think about Gideon and his need for signs, Barak and his need for Deborah. Contrast that with the tremendous boldness of Christ who, with no professional titles and no formally recognized religious education confronted the corrupt religious leaders of his day and in the presence of their followers repeatedly got in their face and publicly chastised them for their hypocrisy. Jesus was absolutely fearless. I love that story in Luke 14 where Jesus is asked to dinner by a prominent Pharisee.
Jesus notices that the guests—the other religious leaders had chosen for themselves the best seats in the house. As a guest in this man’s house, he looks at the other guests who were doubtless friends of the host and he says to them, “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor…But when you are invited, take the lowest place…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Next, when Jesus looks around and noticed that the Pharisee had only invited his friends he says to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Do you get the picture? When Jesus is invited to this dinner party of religious leaders he tells the other guest they are full of themselves because they have chosen the wrong seats. Then he openly confronts the host about his guest list—he tells him he’s invited all the wrong people. Is that brash? This is not a timid person! This is not Minnesota nice! He would infuriate the religious people in our culture just like he did in Palestine 2000 years ago. How different he is from the deliverers in the book of Judges who are morally corrupt. They lie, they cheat, they scheme, they fornicate, they bow down to idols, they murder. Contrast that with Christ who was tempted far more severely yet “who was without sin.” He was the Lamb without spot or blemish—the sinless sacrifice. He lived out exactly what he preached—zero hypocrisy.
A second way we see the supremacy of Christ as our Deliverer is in the eternal nature of His deliverance. The judges never won more than a few decades of freedom from oppression for their people. Some brought 40 years—a single generation. Another brought two generations, but none of them rid the people of God from their oppressors indefinitely. As skilled as some of them were militarily, there was no final conquest of the enemy achieved by these deliverers. Contrast that with the deliverance Christ achieved. When Christ delivered us from Satan’s power at Calvary, he purchased for us an eternal salvation according to Hebrews 5:9. He saved us eternally from the penalty and power of sin. Once we get to heaven, we will NEVER have to experience sin again. According to Hebrews 9:15 and He purchased for us an eternal inheritance. The geographic inheritance of the Jews—their land in Palestine is temporary but our inheritance in Christ—the presence and glory of God is eternal. First Peter 5:10 says that those who trust Christ have been called to an eternal glory. We will flawlessly reflect and behold the glory of God forever. This has been purchased for us by our Deliverer and given to us through what Hebrews 13:20 says is an eternal covenant. Our covenant relationship to God purchased by the blood of Christ is eternal—it doesn’t stop after 40 or eighty years. It won’t get old or wear out or lose its delight for us. Finally, the monarchy of national Israel ended with their last king, but second Peter 1:11 says that we will through Christ enter an eternal kingdom. Do you hear how different Christ’s deliverance is?
A third and final way we see the supremacy of Christ in the pages of Judges is in the comprehensive nature of His deliverance. The deliverers of the Old Testament were only able to bring geographic, political and military deliverance. The people were freed politically but the root cause of their oppression was never dealt with. The judges of the Old Testament were never able to free the people of God from what bound them most oppressively. The most cruel tormentor of the Jews in Judges is the one that still keeps people bound and sends them to an eternal torment in hell. That is, the oppression of sin. It was their sin—their rebellion against God that caused them to fall under the oppression of their pagan neighbors. Only Christ can deliver people from this most oppressive tyrant that ruthlessly controls people’s lives—many times so completely they don’t even know they are in bondage, helplessly living under the tyranny of sin.
Galatians 1:4 says it was Christ, “who gave Himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” [NASB] Colossians 1:13 says, “For he delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”[NASB] Satan was standing on our necks, grinding us further and further into the filth of our sin when Christ through his blood sacrifice came and threw him off of us, picked us up, washed us off and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly realms. If we have trusted Christ, we have been delivered from the domain—the realm where sin and Satan ruthlessly rule. Paul was struggling with his sinful tendencies and cried out in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[KJV] Who will deliver me from the terrible weight and burden and power of indwelling sin?—Christ will! “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” First Thessalonians 1:10 tells us Jesus is the One “who delivers us from the wrath to come.” When unbelievers are helplessly filing through the gates of hell by the billions, their tortured screams echoing down the corridors of outer darkness, those whom Christ has delivered, who He has been plucked from Satan’s hand will be gathered around the throne, praising their Deliverer.
How blessed we are that we don’t have to rely on a Samson or Gideon or Jephthah to deliver us. “One greater than Solomon is here—greater than David or Samuel or Moses, too. We place our trust for deliverance from Satan and the power and penalty of sin in Christ—the sinless, omnipotent King of the universe who delivered us by his shed blood on Calvary’s cross. If you haven’t placed your trust in Christ, then repent of your sins and trust him for your deliverance from sin and death. May God give us the grace to exult in the supremacy of Christ for His glory.
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