MESSAGE FOR MAY 12, 2002 FROM JUDGES 2:6-23

(Third message in a series from Judges)

 

            This week, we begin our third message in this series of sermons from the Old Testament book of Judges.  As we’ve said the last two weeks, the events of this book take place between the death of Joshua and the beginning of Samuel’s ministry--a period of about 300-350 years.  This was a dark period for the Jewish people because during this time they were in a state of almost constant rebellion against God.  The author of Judges in these early chapters peels back the soil covering the roots of this sick, spiritually rebellious tree call Judaism and helps us to see that at the very roots, these people were rebels.  It’s from this rebellion in their roots that the rest of the rebellion recounted in the book grows and develops into a full-blown state of apostasy.  “Apostasy” is a word we should know in the church.  It means a turning away from God—a rejection of God and his covenant.  The Jews are in the process of apostasy for this entire book and much of the Old Testament.  Judges is not the story of a spiritually healthy people who somehow mysteriously go bad.  Here in the early chapters of Judges, the author shows us from the earliest moments of the book the roots of their apostasy as they begin the process of rejecting God.

            One of these roots we saw last week.  That is, they failed to obey God’s covenant stipulation to destroy the pagan, Canaanites from their midst.  As each tribe moved across the Jordan to conquer their allotted land, they failed to drive out and destroy the Canaanite people who occupied the land.  In response to the Israelites disobedience, God through His angel tells them in chapter 2:3, “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.”  God refuses to drive these pagan idolaters out of the land.  As we saw last week, the presence of these pagans with their idolatrous and immoral practices played a profound role in the history of Israel for the next five hundred years as they constantly gave themselves to the demonic gods of the Canaanites.  One root of the Jews apostasy was the presence of these pagan influences, which they refused to drive out of the land.  The point of application for us is that we, like they are called to drive out from our heart the worldly, pagan influences or they will become spiritually lethal traps for us as they were for the Jews.

            In the text for this morning, we will see at least two more of these roots of apostasy in Israel.  Let’s read Judges 2:6-23.  The author is giving a broad recapitulation of the recent history of Israel from a spiritual perspective. The author is writing a wide-angle-lens history of the spiritual sickness of Israel during this time period.  He says in verse six and following, “After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. 7The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

14In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.  16Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord's commands. 18Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.  20Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, "Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, 21I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did." 23The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

            That’s a very broad overview of Jewish history from the end of Joshua’s life through the book of Judges.  At the outset of this text, we see another of these corrupt roots of apostasy that underlie the spiritual disease we see in Israel for the rest of this book.  We read that as long as Joshua and the elders who survived Joshua and who had seen  God’s provision in the wilderness and the early victories on the East side of the Jordan were living, the people served the Lord.  As long as the generation was alive that had seen God work miracles the people followed God.  But in verse ten the author records, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”  In verse 11 we see the direct result of this ignorance of God and his work among them, “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.”

            The author in verse 10 makes this statement without any comment about this next generation who “knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”  Don’t allow the matter-of-fact way this is written to cause you to skip over that statement because this is a stunning revelation.  That should cause a 12-car pile up in our minds.  The red lights should be blinking; the sirens should be blaring-the “TILT” light should be flashing.  The obvious question this revelation should bring to us is “how on earth does an entire generation grow up among the Jews who don’t know their covenant God and the great things he has done to establish his covenant relationship with them?”  How could this generation possibly not know God and what he had done for them?  Did they grow up in some sort of spiritual vacuum?  This statement that an entire generation of Jews could grow up and not know God is a pulverizing indictment of several groups of people and their failures are a huge root cause of the later Jewish apostasy.  In addition to leaving the pagans in the land another root of apostasy is the Jews were not faithful in passing on the truth about God and his grace to their succeeding generations.

            One of the groups who failed dismally here are the priests and Levites.  God had taken many careful measures to ensure that his people would follow him perpetually, long after their deliverance from Egypt, long after his miraculous provision for them in the wilderness and long after he defeated the Canaanites before them in the Promised Land.  He had carefully instituted an elaborate worship system and a large function of this system was to keep Yahweh and what he had done for them fresh in the minds of the people.  These institutions of the priesthood and the entire Levitical system were not a short-term establishment—they were intended to be a perpetual structure to facilitate the ongoing worship and devotion of the Hebrews.  God had faithfully instituted feasts and celebrations that were to be celebrated regularly for the set purpose of reminding the people of God’s gracious acts toward them.

            In Exodus 12:14 when God was about to deliver the people from Egypt He told Moses to celebrate God’s deliverance of his people through the Passover.  He said, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”  This was to be done perpetually to commemorate—that is--to celebrate the memory of God’s deliverance from Egypt for the generations to come.  How on earth does a generation grow up not knowing God and what he has done for them if you are celebrating the Passover?  God had established the Day of Atonement as a special holy day to remind the people of their horrendous sin and the need for God to atone for it.  God’s grace in providing a substitute for our sin, which pointed to the cross, was to be celebrated and remembered.  Leviticus 16:34 says of this holy day, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you:  Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites…” The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was to be celebrated every year at harvest time to remind the Jews of God’s provision of their food.  Leviticus 23:21 says this was to be “a lasting ordinance.”  In Leviticus 23:41 God says to Moses about the Feast of Tabernacles, which reminded the Jews of God’s provision in the wilderness and the bounty of Canaan, “Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year.  This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month.”

            How can a nation not know God or what he has done for them when these and the weekly Sabbaths and the Firstfruits and the Feast of Trumpets and the Sacred Assembly and the other holy days and times are being celebrated?  The answer is, with great difficulty and what this revelation in Judges 2:10 means is the priests had utterly failed to discharge their duties to keep Yahweh and his countless acts of grace in front of these people.  The spiritual life of the community had nose-dived thanks in part to the dismal performance of these faithless religious leaders. 

            Also, notice what is specifically mentioned as to what the nation did not pass on—“all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.”  The former generation of Jews may have been faithful in some parts of the law, but of all the things to NOT say about God the most catastrophic omission theologically and spiritually is to leave out the examples of his grace to His people.  The reason why this is a fatal blow to the health of the covenant relationship is because every covenant God ever made with His people was founded upon his gracious acts—the “great things he had done for Israel.”  Because these great acts of grace form the foundation of the covenant relationship that means if you have no understanding of the glorious things God has done for you there is no healthy basis on which to build a covenant relationship with Him.   

            This pattern repeats over and over in the Bible to show how God relates to his people.  For instance, He graciously revealed himself to Abraham and made astonishing promises of grace to Him and that provided the basis for the Abrahamic Covenant.  God graciously redeemed his people out of slavery in Egypt and he builds his Sinai Covenant with his people on the foundation of his gracious deliverance of his people.  That’s why he so often refers to Himself as, “the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.”  We see this gracious act forming the basis of the covenant relationship in Deuteronomy chapter five.  The sentence God’s speaks before he gives the Ten Commandments—the Sinai Covenant is found in verse six where he says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of he land of slavery.” God bases his covenant with David on his gracious promise that David’s kingdom will be established forever.   The final, great New Covenant Jesus made is founded upon his ultimately gracious act of dying for us on Calvary.   Covenant relationships are always initiated by God-they are always HIS idea, not ours and if we are to have a healthy relationship with God, we must constantly be reminded of his gracious acts.  This is why Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by which we can remember the great thing the LORD has done for us in Christ’s death on Calvary.

            Here’s how this pattern plays out in the Bible.  Look for this as you read the Old Testament.  After God initiates the covenant with the gracious act of some sort, he waits for the response of the one or people who he has entered into covenant.  The appropriate response is to love him, fear him, praise him, give to him, sacrifice for him and obey him.  If the response of the covenant partner is appropriate, God brings blessing.  If the response is sinful and ungrateful, he brings a curse or some form of discipline on his people.  We see this from the Garden of Eden on.  This pattern of the covenant is how God relates to his people.   Now this generation of people in Judges chapter two who had not heard of God’s great acts because of the failures of the nation could in no way rightly respond to God because the foundation of the covenant relationship was not in place— a knowledge of the gracious acts of God. 

Here’s the point of application for us.  If we as believers do not have clear understanding and a profound appreciation for the gracious founding act of the New Covenant in Christ, there is no way we can respond appropriately to our God of the covenant.  The cross and what was done for us there should cast an immense backdrop of grace over our lives. If you have profound sense of what God has done for you in His forgiveness in Christ—if His act of grace in the cross is rooted deeply in your heart, then you will respond to that love more passionately because its from our awareness of God’s goodness and love to us that we serve and love him in response. 

We see the crucial importance of this as Paul prays for the Ephesians in 3:17-19.  He says, “…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love [do you hear that our spiritual roots are in the love of God for us?] may have power together with all the saints, [this is universally important] to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge [you can know that which surpasses knowledge only through the Spirit] [now notice the effect this will have on us] that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  I take that to mean spiritual maturity.  Spiritual maturity comes to those who are—1. rooted and established in love and who 2. have been given the power through the Holy Spirit to know the full extent of God’s love for them.  We are rooted and established in love and we grow as we come to more and more grow in our knowledge of the knowledge-surpassing love of God and that brings us to spiritual maturity.  The priest’s failure to pass on the great things the LORD had done for Israel set these people up for a huge fall and that is precisely what happened.

            But beyond the role the priests played in this is the failure of the Hebrew parents.  Whatever happened to Deuteronomy 6:4-7? Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  An entire generation of parents had obviously shirked their covenant responsibility to pass along the truth of God to their children.  That’s the inescapable conclusion we draw from the emergence of the next generation who “neither knew the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”  The previous generation was faithful to follow the Lord as they saw the great things he was doing in their midst BUT in their unfaithfulness to pass the truth on to their children, these parents doomed their kids to enslavement by the Canaanites.  Because of the children’s ignorance of God and his grace, they were doomed to follow after the pagan gods and suffer the consequence of the heavy Canaanite oppression that resulted.

            Likewise, if we as parents are faithful in going to church meetings and showing up at church work days and doing all sorts of other religious and spiritual duties but are absent- without-leave in the area of diligently passing the truth of the Bible to our children, we are dooming them to, at best, the chastisement of God as he drives the rebellion out of them through his loving discipline.  At worst, if we are not with a high degree of intentionality passing on the truth of God to our children, we are acting as unwitting agents of Satan in their lives.  What I mean by that is this. Our silence about the truth of God and the gracious things God has done for us in the church and our individual families fits in perfectly with Satan’s agenda to blind our children to the truth.  If we are not actively educating our children about God and his gracious acts in Christ, we are playing right into Satan’s hand.  The Jewish priests and parents failed to do this and the result was apostasy—the almost wholesale rejection of God by the Jewish people for the Baals.  That brings us to the second root of apostasy.

            A second root of apostasy seen in this text is the people’s self-centered view of God.  The Jews must have possessed a self-centered view of God in order to be drawn away to worship the Baals. Verse 11 says, “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.  The nature of Baal worship in the Ancient Near East was such that it appealed to what the Bible calls the “flesh.”  That is, it appealed to the people’s thirst for sensual pleasure detached from any relationship.  The worship of the Baals was, as much as anything a pursuit of sensual pleasure.  The religious system of the Canaanites was complex but it essentially boiled down to a fertility cult.  There were certain Baals who were thought to rule over certain areas of land and the followers of the Baals believed the fertility of the land and the animals and the people was dependent upon whether you appropriately served Baal.  Courting Baal’s favor was very important in Palestine because the land had few natural springs and was almost totally dependent upon rainfall for fertility.  How did you serve the Baals?  Over time, the Canaanites had incorporated all sorts of immoral, perverse sexual worship rituals and had instituted shrine prostitutes whose sexual immorality with the people was essential to the guarantee of fertility in the land. If the gods were not bringing rain, the pagans would go all out in their perverse, sensual courting of the gods’ favor. 

            It was a satanic religion driven by sensual lust and hedonism.  The gods in this culture existed not fundamentally to be admired, esteemed and exalted but to encourage carnal lusts as the people sought their favor.  You can understand from a human point of view why this religion was so compelling to the Jews whose God was much more austere and who wanted the Jews to find pleasure NOT in sensual lusts, but in HIS PERSON.  We see the self-centeredness of this religious system in verse 17.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them.”  That word “prostituted” conveys not only the adulterous betrayal by the Jews toward their national husband, Yahweh; it is also drenched with the sensual nature of Baal worship.  The focus is not on bringing honor and glory to God through a faithful covenant relationship of love, but rather sensually seeking after pleasure as they tried to convince these fickle pagan gods to give them a good harvest and a healthy herd and a large family.

            If you are a follower of Yahweh as Moses was, your passion is to know the glory of God not carnal lusts.  Carnal, self-focused desires are denied as you discover that the greatest pleasure is in being rightly related to the Lord of the universe within the covenant.  This is not a blind lust for raw, sensual pleasure; it’s a passion for God in whom our soul’s deepest pleasures are found.  Do you hear how on the one hand our passion for God is God-centered, but the lust for sensual pleasure as you seek after the Baals is self-centered?

            The application for us is this:  We are not to worship God as a means to pleasure, but AS our pleasure.  We are to find our lasting pleasure in Him.  Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.” [NASB]  Our highest joys and our deepest pleasures are in God Himself.  That is a God-centered religion.  This is not to say that we are not to enjoy the pleasure of a fine meal or a warm breeze or the pleasures of marriage and family.  What it does mean is that we are to enjoy those pleasures to the glory of God realizing they come from God and we are to enjoy them as gifts he has provided and praise Him for them.  The health-wealth gospel with its name it-claim it, God-will- give-you-whatever-you-have-faith-to-believe-in mentality is utterly wicked because it reduces God to a means to get what our carnal desires want—a big house, a luxury car.  People who actually believe that nonsense are destitute spiritually because they have never tasted of the riches of the pleasures of God, which are far above any pleasure this world can afford.

            But it’s not just the health-wealth folks who can fall into this trap.  If we serve God as a means to an end to anything other than GOD, the there is a root of apostasy in our hearts.  If we serve God only to escape hell, then God for us is nothing more than fire insurance.  If we serve God because we want to feel good about ourselves, then God is just a self-esteem stimulant.  If we serve God to fit in better with our friends, then God is just a social director.  If we serve God so our kids will turn out, then God is just a cosmic nanny.  If God for us is a MEANS to an end and not THE end, then we, like the Jews, will be vulnerable to the temptation to worship the pleasures of this world, money, possessions, fun, sex, you name it. The reason for this is if God for us is only a means to an end, then whatever is the end for us is more precious than God.  We must ask God to show us why we serve God and if the answer is not, because we “love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” because of who He is and what he has done for us then in our hearts we are no better than these apostate Jews who rejected God for the Baals.  May God give us the grace to see the truth about our hearts and destroy the roots of apostasy that are growing there.

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