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TEXT: Judges 2:6-3:6
SUBJECT: Judges #2: Evil Working for Good
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our Christ-centered study of Judges. I say Christ-centered because no Book in the Bible is easier to read in a man-centered way than this one. If you know Judges, you know what I mean: all of its main characters are fascinating people, most of them are full of contradictions, and some have the tragic flaws you know will betray them in the end.
It is easy, therefore, to become so interested in Jepthah or Samson that you miss the Lord who is at work in them. If the Story is about the Judges, it is a dead story because the Judges are dead. But if it is about Christ working in them, the Story is alive-because Jesus is alive! And at work in us.
Today's story begins with the death of Joshua. If this sounds familiar, it ought to, because that's where last week's story began. This means today's story does not follow the one from last week but runs parallel to it-at least in part.
The two stories start at the same place, but while the first telling covers no more than fifteen or twenty years, the second covers at least 180 years, and some scholars say more than 400!
If this seems strange to you, it is. But it is not wrong because what happened the first years in Canaan set a pattern for the whole history of Israel-to the end of the Book of Judges, of course, and more than that, till the coming of Christ. The pattern looks like this:
The cycle occurs twelve times in the Book of Judges, corresponding-I think-to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This means the whole nation is guilty and the Lord saves the whole nation! In other words--
Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
There is a pessimistic way of reading this Book, as though the sins of Israel finally wore down the mercy of God. In fact, it is the other way around: the mercy of God finally wore down the sins of Israel! The book ends with a cry for help-
In those days there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes.
The help was long in coming, but, in God's good time, it came--
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
If Judges is full of sin, it is overflowing with grace. The people don't deserve the Lord's favor, but they get it anyway. So do we. We should be deeply thankful for this, for if salvation came only to those deserved it, nobody would have it. But, if it comes to those who 'don't deserve it' and if 'nobody deserves it', 'anybody can have it'-including you and me.
LAST DAYS OF JOSHUA
The story begins with Joshua on his deathbed. For many years he had led Israel, but his time was now up. Before he died, however, he called the people to meet him in Shechem, where the Tabernacle was, and to hear the Word of God one last time.
He reminds them of their unworthiness, of the Lord's great goodness, and of their obligation to serve Him from the heart. Moved by his stirring appeal, they promise to obey the Lord, and the old man replies, The Lord has heard you, and He will hold you to your word.
If they obey the Lord, He will bless them; He will give them the whole land, and with it more peace and prosperity than they ever dreamed of. If they do not obey Him, He will visit their sins in judgment, up to and including, the loss of their land.
When the sermon is over, the old man sends the people to their homes-each to his own inheritance, to possess the land.
Underline the word inheritance. The people did not take the land of Canaan; it was given to them. Did they fight for it? Of course they did, but it was God who won it for them, and not they themselves. Nothing is earned; all they had-and all we have-is the gift of God-
Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Not long after getting home, the people heard Joshua was dead. For a few years the loss was not too keen because his advisers were still active and they carried on his wise policies. As long as the old men survived, the nation prospered. But nobody lives forever, and before long.
A new generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work He had done for Israel.
For all their faults, the first generation had experienced the Lord first hand. They had seen His brightness hovering over the Tabernacle; they had heard His voice from Mount Sinai; they had tasted the manna. The younger people had not lived through all these things, but only heard about them. And what they heard they did not believe.
How do we explain this? Why didn't they believe what their parents told them? It is easy to blame the parents, either for not telling them at all, or for living in such as way as to discredit their teaching. While I don't entirely rule these things out, they don't fit the facts very well, for v.7 says the parents,
Served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived [him].
A big part of serving the Lord is telling your children who He is and what He has done. The most important passage in the Old Testament is also the one the Jews memorized and recited at every public meeting. It's called the shema-
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
If they didn't do this, they didn't serve the Lord. But they did serve the Lord, and this means they taught their children, if not perfectly, at least they taught them.
Beware of false guilt and the guilt mongers who are so eager to blame you for your children's unbelief. The best parents commit many sins and make a thousand mistakes every day. But if you have taught your children the ways of God and tried to live up to them yourselves, you are not responsible for their evil ways-they are! A close friend of mine was a good father whose daughter turned away from the Lord with a vengeance. For years he wracked his brain wondering what he did wrong and he exaggerated his every fault. But one day the Lord lifted the burden--with His Word, it was Isaiah 1:2-
Hear, O heavens,
And give ear, O earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
'I have nourished and brought up
and they have rebelled against Me'.
Confess your sins to the Lord, ask Him to pardon them and to reverse the evil effects they have had on your children. And stop feeling guilty, because you are forgiven!
The new generation forsook the Lord because they wanted to. It was not ignorance that led them astray, but lust or evil desire. What did they lust for? Two things: Baal and Ashtoreth. Baal was a fertility god and Ashtoreth was his girlfriend. The Canaanites believed their farms would produce crops and their wives would bear children only if these gods were honored. And so they honored them by making images of them, offering sacrifices to them, and sleeping with their sacred prostitutes.
This is what it had come to. The holy worship of the Holy God had been traded in for the dirty worship of a dirty god. I wish I could say they didn't know better, but they did. They had heard the Word of God and their consciences had affirmed it. But they cared for neither-
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature, rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
It would be comforting to say only a handful went this far, but it would not be true. With a few exceptions, the whole nation deserted the Lord in favor of the lords who are not lords.
The true character of their sin is revealed in the middle of v.17-
They played the harlot with other gods.
The People were not only disobedient to God's Law, but on a deeper level, they were unfaithful to God Himself. He was a good and loving husband to them, but they were tramps, throwing themselves at every man who passed by.
Within forty years of entering Canaan, the People of God had become Canaanites.
If they're going to live like the Canaanites, God will treat them like the Canaanites! In Joshua's day, the Canaanites lost one battle after another. And now, the new Canaanites will suffer the same fate.
The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel and He delivered them into the hands of the plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of the enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity.and they were greatly distressed.
Well, not exactly the same fate. While God often sent judgment, even more often, He sent Judges.
The word, Judge means 'Savior' and this is what they were sent to do: to save Israel from foreign oppressors--and from themselves.
The Judges did not win wars by their own power or strategy, but because
The Lord was with the Judge, and delivered them out of the hands of their enemies all the days of the Judge.
Thus it was not the Judge himself who saved Israel, but the Lord working through the Judge. The word has always been true-
Salvation is of the Lord!
If the people did not appreciate the Lord, neither did they regard His servants--
They would not listen to their Judges.
Flushed with victory, they would respect their leaders for a time, but they never gave their heart to the Judges, because they never gave their heart to God. As soon as the Judge died, they reverted to their old ways, only worse-
When the Judge was dead.they behaved worse than their fathers [and] did not cease from their stubborn ways.
Because they would not respond to His kindness, the Lord took other measures-
I will no longer drive out any of the nations that Joshua left.Now these are the nations the Lord left: The Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, the Hivites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites.
Eight nations were left in the land, and every one of them had a chip on its shoulder. For centuries they would attack Israel with their armies and seduce them with their idols.
What would you call the enemy nations? You might call them a punishment or a chastisement or a consequence. They were all these things, of course, but the Lord calls them something else: He calls them.a test, cf. 2:22, 3:1, 3:4-
That through them I might test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord.or not.
Now these are the nations that the Lord left, that He might test Israel.
And they were left that they He might test Israel, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord.
What does a test do? It reveals. A medical test doesn't make you sick or well it only reveals if you're sick or well. The Canaanites were to Israel what an x-ray is to a lung.
What did the test say? It said they were gravely sick-
So the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods.
In the short-term, leaving the Canaanites in the land was a punishment. But in the long-run it was an act of kindness. For the Canaanites hurt Israel so badly and so often, that they cried to the Lord for help. And when they did, He pitied them and sent Judges to save them. When the Judges failed, He sent kings, and when the kings failed, He sent Christ.
Like the Law, the Canaanites were the schoolmaster who brought them to Christ. They showed them that there are consequences to sin, and the consequences cannot be gotten out of. Unless God gets us out of them.
This was the message to Israel back then, and to us here and now. The problems in life are never pleasant, and the worst ones of all are those we bring on ourselves. But if the problems are not good, the Lord is, and He uses our problems to do us good. Including the ones that are the direct result of our sin!
These are the ones we struggle with most. I can see-sort of-how the Lord can use sickness or poverty or the death of a loved one to bring me closer to Him. But can He also use divorce-a divorce I caused by my own sin? Surely, even God cannot use that, can He?
Yes He can.
Does this mean we should take sin lightly, as though it doesn't matter and the pain is not really painful? No.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!
It means our sin does not ruin us. Because God is greater than our sin. Are you in despair? Are you paralyzed by something you did in the past? If the sin has not been confessed to the Lord, confess it right now! But the sins that torture us are usually the ones we have confessed to the Lord, confessed to Him over and over. They torture us because we believe they have disqualified us from living a joyful Christian life. They haven't!
Peter denied the Lord three times, in public. What a fool he made of himself-and worse than a fool! He went out and wept bitterly that night. But a few days later, the Lord welcomed him back with open arms, and gave him something to do-Feed my sheep. No wonder it was Peter who described the Christian life so vividly-
We rejoice with a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
It would have been better for Israel to obey the Lord, to wipe out the native peoples, and to be rid of their gods once and for all. But when Israel failed the Lord, He did not fail them. He will not fail you either-no matter what you have done. He can forgive the worst sin and then use it to bring you to Himself.
Let Israel hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel from
All his iniquties.
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