MESSAGE FROM JUDGES 3:1-6 FOR MAY 19, 2002

           

This week, we continue in our series of messages from the Old Testament book of Judges.  In this book, we see the patience of God as the Jews lived during this time period not only with no human king but they also certainly did not recognize God as their King.  Last week, we saw there is a repeated pattern that occurs in the bible as God relates to His covenant people.  We said that God always initiates any of His covenants with an act of grace.  He reveals himself to His covenant partner in some way or does some act of deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt, which serves as the basis for the covenant at Sinai or He gives His only Son at Calvary, which serves as the basis for the New Covenant in Christ.  After God acts in grace toward the covenant partner (whether it be a man like Abraham or his covenant nation Israel) he then waits for their response.  If the response is appropriate like praise, worship, sacrifice, obedience, etc… then his covenant people live with his blessing.  If the response is inappropriate and his people rebel against him by turning to idols, he brings discipline on his people.  In the Old Testament, as the rebellion persisted, he invoked the curses of the covenant on His people.  Both the Old Covenant blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience are found in Deuteronomy chapter 28.  The blessings for obedience included things like fertility, the conquest of all military enemies and abundant harvests.  The curses for disobedience included things like infertility, plagues, defeat by their enemies and eventually exile from the Promised Land.  Centuries after the events described in Judges that is precisely what happened to both the northern and southern kingdoms after centuries of disobedience.

            You see this pattern repeatedly in the Old Testament.  In the book of Judges we see God only administering the curses of the covenant because the history of Judges is one of repeated rebellion and turning away from God.  That’s why God inflicts discipline on his people by allowing these neighboring pagan Canaanites to mercilessly oppress them again and again.  If you’ll remember, chapter 2:6-23 serves as a broad survey of the entire book of Judges.  As we move to chapter three, we go back to a “real-time” telling of the events and the narrative picks up what happens after God sends his angel to the Jews at Bokim in 2:1-5 and He tells that them He will not remove the Canaanites from their midst because they had been unwilling to fight hard enough to drive them out.  That tells us something important about God that I want to treat here before we get into this week’s text because there is an important and intensely practical spiritual principle seen in the way God deals with his people here.  That is: God will not do for his people what we are unwilling to do for ourselves.  I did NOT say, “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not in the Bible but it is true that God will not do for us what we are unwilling to do for ourselves.  God is not in the business of raising spoiled children and if He were to do for us what we were unwilling to do for ourselves, that is precisely what we would be.  It is clear that driving out the Canaanites from the land was a cooperative effort between the Jews and God.  God had promised to drive out the pagans but he would do that ONLY as the Jews fought against them.  These Canaanite nations were seven nations larger and stronger than them according to Deuteronomy chapter seven.  There was no way on their own the Jews could hope to prevail.  So God assures them that He will fight for them as they fight against these pagans.  This cooperative arrangement between God and his covenant people hasn’t changed.  God works in and through us as we by his grace step out in faith for Him.

We see this in Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  We do not work to BE saved—that is a free gift of God’s grace.  But we do work OUT this salvation process that God has begun in us through our conversion and which will be completed in glory.  A text we have quoted before expresses Paul’s own process.  He says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  Being a Christian for Paul was to “wrestle,” to “fight,” to “run with all his might.”  Christianity is not for the faint of heart.  It is a fight against our own lazy, carnal flesh and the devil and the satanic world system we live in.  It’s a marathon race--it requires perseverance and sacrifice.  Paul sums all that up with this phrase in Philippians “work out your salvation.” 

The reason we can fight this fight, run this endurance race is because [v.13]“it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  The fight, the race is only possible because God energizes our will to have a desire to fight the fight and run the race and because He enables us through his power to actually accomplish what he has given us a will to do.  Paul says God is the One who energizes the will to cause us to want to obey Him and He provides the power we need to work out our salvation.  Our job is to enter into the battle, do our work; run the race with everything we have, as we trust him to do those things in and through us.  That’s the balance between working out our salvation and trusting in God.  We dare not be spiritually passive, expecting God to do what we are unwilling to do.

This is a very important word to the church today where Christianity is sometimes understood as praying a prayer, going to church, passively “trusting in God” without ever breaking a sweat and waiting for heaven.  There is in that understanding no fight to be fought, no race to be run, no struggle to engage in.  It’s a passive understanding of Christianity.  Just trust and God does the rest—let go and let God.  People who have a high view of God’s sovereignty can sometimes get off here.  It’s easy for some people to confuse trusting in God’s sovereign control with spiritual passivity or laziness.  This warped, unbiblical thinking is often expressed by sentiments like,  Since I know God wants this particular thing or ministry to be accomplished and He is sovereign, I don’t need to plan or work or sweat, I’ll just trust him.”  That’s NOT reformed theology.  In many cases that’s just plain laziness.  That would be like the Jews saying to Moses when he told them that God had promised them Canaan as their inheritance and would fight for them in to take the Promised Land, “Great, let us know when He’s finished killing the pagans and we’ll move our stuff in.”  The call to Israel was to fight and as they fought, God would win the victory through them.  God will do the same for us but He will not do for us what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. 

The context of Judges chapter three is God has told the Jews He will not drive out the Canaanites because they have been unwilling to do the hard work necessary to destroy them.  The Jews are being disciplined for their disobedience by Yahweh’s refusal to drive out these Canaanites.  That’s the clear message of chapter two.  God has blessed these people by delivering them from Egypt, by preserving them in the wilderness, by beginning to conquer the Canaanites on the east side of the Jordan and the people respond to God’s grace by being unwilling to drive out the rest of the pagan idolaters.  God in turn responds to their disobedience by disciplining them through the ongoing presence of the Canaanites.

Now, this morning’s text beginning with verse one of chapter three says, These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan 2(he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): 3the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. 4They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord's commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. 5The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 6They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

One truth this text communicates about how God works in his covenant relationships is this:  God works redemptively in us as he disciplines us for our disobedience.  By discipline, I do not mean God’s condemning judgment.  This is, as we will see, the corrective or training discipline of a loving Father.  This text, which speaks of God’s hand of discipline on his people, is filled with hope because in it we see that God through the discipline of his children is still at work to redeem them—to bring them back to him.  And that is so encouraging for us.  God doesn’t discipline his children simply because he is “ticked off” and in his rage lashes out at us only to assuage his anger.  God uses the discipline He administers and the hardships that come in the midst of his discipline for the good of his people—there are redemptive purposes behind his discipline.  In this text, let’s look at three redemptive purposes God has for Israel and for us in the midst of His discipline.

The first redemptive purpose we see in his discipline is this:  In the hardships of God’s discipline, we can learn to trust God as we see his power and grace.  Look at verses one and two again, “These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan 2(he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience)” An entire generation of Jews had not done any fighting and because of that had never seen God’s hand of power and deliverance.  So God wants this current generation to learn how to fight his holy war so that they can see his power.  You’ll recall from last week that we saw in 2:10 that an entire generation who had not been in the wilderness “knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”  So God disciplines the Jews by leaving the Canaanites in the land so that he might teach them to fight BUT as they fight His intention was that they would come to know God and his power and grace to deliver them from the Canaanites.  As they fight, they would learn what their parents and the priests had tragically not taught them—who God is and what He can and does do for his people.  God uses his discipline to help them know what kind of God He is and what he will do for his people.  This purpose of having his people know Him was so important to God the author in verse two uses an emphatic Hebrew construction that the NIV translates, “he did this ONLY to teach warfare to the descendents of the Israelites…” His point is not to say that the exclusive reason God did this was to teach the Canaanites His power in warfare, but that this was especially his purpose in this.  God is VERY serious that his children come to know him and what he can do and he uses the hardships of his discipline to teach them.

This way God deals with his people by teaching them about himself and his power to deliver them in the midst of his disciplining them is nothing new.  You’ll recall that the 40 years the Jews spent in the wilderness was disciplinary.  They had failed to trust God’s original command to conquer the Promised Land and so he sentenced that generation of rebels to live and die in the wilderness.  But in the midst of that discipline in the wilderness, God was teaching the Jews some very important lessons.  We see this in Deuteronomy 8:2-5 as Moses is reminding the Jews of God’s redemptive purpose for them in the desert.  He says, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  Also notice verse 16. “He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”

God was disciplining the Jews in the wilderness for not trusting him but in the midst of that discipline, he is teaching them crucial lessons so that it will go well with them.  This not purely a waste of time in God’s wilderness woodshed—God’s discipline of his children is redemptive—He uses it to help them know Him better.  In the wilderness God made his children hungry and then he fed them to show his provision.  He gives them manna from heaven to help them to know that their deepest need is not food but God’s word.  He put them in a hot, barren, hostile environment and then he miraculously protects them so their feet don’t swell and their clothes don’t wear out.   He uses the trials of the disciplinary time in the desert to humble them so they would learn to trust Him as he revealed his hand of provision and protection among them.  What a wonderful God we serve that when he disciplines us for our disobedience, he is in the discipline working to reveal himself so that we can be more like Him.

We know this way God relates to his people in the covenant did not end with the Old Testament.  In the New Testament book of Hebrews chapter 12:5-11 we read, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:  "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."  7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

            This discipline can come in many forms.  It may be the rebuke of a brother or sister in Christ when we are out of line.  That stings us and bruises our pride but it is good for us when it is on target.  It may be the pain of the Holy Spirit’s conviction in us that brings us to deep, painful grief.  And it may be like the Jews experienced in Judges—a time of prolonged hardship that comes from God in response to rebellion against his revealed will.  Some of you may be experiencing the discipline of God right now.  Maybe you rejected God’s will for you in some way and you are under hardship for it. Maybe you have forfeited the life you could have had because of sins you committed years ago.  Never forget that God’s discipline is a sign of his love for you and the hardship is there to teach you about him and his grace.  God still loves you and is at work redemptively in your life through the difficulties you face.  He will use even our disobedience to bring us to holiness and righteousness as he disciplines us.  This is not to say that every difficult thing in our life is God’s discipline.  We live in a fallen world where bad things just happen at times.  But there are times when the hardship that comes into our lives is God’s discipline for the sinful choices we make. In those situations—we have this word of comfort from God.  He is treating us as a loving Father and is at work redemptively in us to make us like Jesus.  In the case of Judges three, God wants the Jews to see his power and deliverance in the midst of his discipline as he teaches them to make war against these Canaanites who constantly seek to destroy them.

            A second redemptive purpose of God in the midst of his discipline here in Judges three is in the hardships of God’s discipline, we learn where our hearts really are with God.  We see this purpose in Judges 3:4 as the author is speaking about these Canaanite nations.  He says, “They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’S commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.”  God had commanded the Jews through Moses to remain truthful to Yahweh—to shun idolatry, to “have no other gods before me.”  God leaves the pagans in the land to help the Jews know whether they would be faithful to God.  God didn’t need to know where their hearts were—He knows everything before it happens.  But one of the most important truths we can know about ourselves is the condition of our hearts before God.  We must regularly ask ourselves, “where am I with God?—Am I being faithful? Am I putting him above all others?  Are there areas where I am habitually being disobedient to his word and if so, what areas?”  The answers to those questions are crucial if we are to live faithfully to God.

            So God allowed these Jews to live in the midst a bunch of idolaters to help them to see how devoted they were to God.  And the sad truth is in 3:6 where the author says, “They [the Jews] took their [the Canaanites] daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”  The Jews compromised in the deepest way possible.  They were hopelessly seduced by the Canaanite gods.  Not only did they practice the immoral occult religion of the Canaanites, but they also intermarried with them and that could have eventually blurred the genetic distinction between God’s people, the sons of Abraham with the foreign Canaanites.  Their intermarriage with the pagans threatened to destroy the Hebrew race as a distinct group of people, which would have been disastrous because God had promised that His deliverer, His Messiah would come through the children of Abraham.  If the line of Abraham would have been thoroughly mixed in with the pagan nations there could have been no Messiah to come through the Jews as promised because there would have been no distinct Jewish race.  Part of the underlying plot of the Old Testament is Satan’s persistent attempts to destroy the Jewish race through genetic impurity because that would render God’s promise of a Jewish Messiah null and void.  It was only by God’s sovereign grace that the line of Abraham and the line of Judah through which Christ came and redeemed us was preserved.

            The Jews, when confronted with the hardships of God’s discipline revealed that their hearts were full of idolatry.  When we are in times of testing as a result of God’s discipline of us in hardship, our hearts are revealed as well.  We are like sponges.  You can dip a big fluffy natural sponge in colored water and set it on a counter and not know what color the water is inside until you squeeze the sponge.  Then, what is inside the sponge comes out—when pressure is exerted.  We are the same way.  It’s easy to be happy when things are going well.  If you like your life and are healthy and well fed, even the world does well there.  It’s when things get tough and circumstance put the squeeze on you that you know what’s inside your heart because it comes out.  That’s when we find out if we are really people of genuine faith or if we just go to church and intellectually assent to the Bible.  If we are people of true saving faith, when the tough times come, rather than gripe and whine and complain, we will learn to accept God’s will and seek him in the midst of the trial.  God works redemptively in the midst of his discipline of us to show us where our hearts are.  If when trials come, we have a spiritual melt down, then that shows us that our faith is a fair-weather faith and that is an indication that it doesn’t come from God.  Again, what a great God we serve who would use the hardship of his discipline to work out his redemptive process in us by showing us the condition of our hearts.

A third and final redemptive purpose seen in the discipline of God is one we’ve discussed at some depth in our series on the church.  It is in the hardships of God’s discipline, we learn the spiritual militancy required to follow God.  God disciplines the Jews [verse 2] “…to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience) It’s clear that God wanted the Jews to learn how to fight.  In our message on the church as the army of God we saw that God’s people, whether we live like it or not, are a spiritually militant people who live in a spiritually hostile environment.  That’s the way it was with the Jews and that’s the way it is with us.  God’s people who live in this fallen world are in for a fight because the spiritual forces temporarily running this world and their Prince, Satan are in opposition to God and his kingdom.  God, as the great Warrior King, wants us to live out a biblical militancy.  We need to know that at all times, but during times of hardship, some of which are brought on by God’s discipline, we especially feel the hot breath of our enemy more clearly than when things are going along smoothly.

It’s when we are enduring hardships that we sense the opposition most strongly.  Its when we are under God’s discipline that we begin to understand what it means to live in a world run by a devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” [1Peter 5:8].  That’s crucial for us to grow in grace.  It’s as we learn to fight against our spiritual opposition that we learn to walk in victory as God’s overcoming army.  And God uses times of discipline to teach us the reality and the principles of spiritual warfare.

Times when God is disciplining us are no picnic.  But during those times we must always remember that his discipline is proof of his love for us and that we are indeed his children.  We must not whine or complain but rather learn what God is teaching us and rejoice that in the midst of the discipline, God is accomplishing his redemptive purpose in us, fitting us for heaven.  And that should be our highest goal.  The Hebrews text we read says God’s discipline produces “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  We must submit our selves to God’s discipline and choose to learn from it if His redemptive plan through it will be realized in out lives.  May God give us the grace to understand and exult in the love of God even when it comes in the form of his discipline.

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