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Mosaic Spokane

A Few Good (?) Men... And Women

A Few Good (?) Men…& Women

Judges

October 25, 2015

 

INTRO:  A few years ago, I stopped taking our daily hometown paper, the Spokesman Review.  It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t convenient.  I just came to the point where I realized I was getting way too worked up reading about the news of this nation and culture from a morally bankrupt and politically liberal perspective.  So I did my blood pressure…and family…a favor.  I canceled our subscription.  My dog, my doctor and my dear wife all appreciated the new calm that invaded my daily disposition.  J

            Today’s text from the book of Judges may make you feel like I used to when I read the newspaper.  There are things in Judges that make you sick.  There are things that make you wonder about God.  And there are things that make you feel like you are reading about Gotham City…or the worst parts of one of America’s worst cities.

            The book of Judges is one of the sadder, more sordid parts of the history of God’s people.  But at the same time, it gives us hope that God is still at work in the midst of a morally and spiritually decadent and declining culture.  It should give us hope that WE could be the very people, imperfect as we are, that God can use to bring protection, deliverance and healing to our sin-sick world. 

Most of the judges in the book that bears the same name are probably not familiar to us.  Names like Bokim, Shamgar, Izban and Abdon are still foreign and unknown to us.  On the other hand, names like Deborah, Gideon and Samson have found their way into many people’s vocabulary. 

But it’s some of the things experienced in this period of Israel’s history that leave us feeling like we’re reading today’s newspaper headlines: 

  • “Man Massacres 600 with Cattle Prod.”
  • “Woman Murders Politician by Nailing Head to Ground”
  • “Ethnic Violence Takes 25,000 Lives, Nearly Wiping Out Entire Tribe”
  • “Woman Gang-Raped, Cut into 12 Pieces & Mailed to 12 Different States.”
  • “Father Kills Daughter Because of Rash Vow”

Whether it is the sexual perversion and violence or slaughter of tens of thousands of people, the headlines leave us cold and wondering what has gone wrong with our world and perhaps even a God who would allow those thing to happen.  Life can get very ugly for people out of step with God.

Additionally, Judges is not a comforting book for a culture caught in sin as most seem to be today.  Yet even under those dark clouds of judgment, Judges has encouragement for ordinary, imperfect people just like us at times just like these.

So before we take a look at a couple of the life-equipping truths from this book, let me remind you of one of the basic yet important things to keep in mind whenever you read historical literature in the Bible. 

Judges is a type of writing we call historical literature.  It simply records what happened at a particular time in the history of God’s people.  As such, it often doesn’t make pronouncements about the morality or lack thereof of many of the events.  We, the readers, are left to judge, based upon what God has already revealed about morality, whether what happened was good, evil or a mixture of the two.  So remember, just because God records it doesn’t mean He approves of it!

  • Adam and Eve’s sin is recorded in Genesis but not approved.
  • Job’s accusations of God being unjust are recorded but not approved.
  • David’s adultery and murder are recorded, not approved.
  • So it is with Jephthah’s genocide of another tribe in Israel under his leadership…or the testing of God’s word with fleeces by Gideon… or the undisciplined desires and sexual addictions of Samson.  

Just because God records it doesn’t mean He approves of it!

So let’s start by seeing just how similar our present American culture is to this particular period in Jewish history.

            Judges begins by telling us that it took less than 3 generations after the Joshua generation that took the Promised Land for God’s people to walk away from wholehearted devotion to Yahweh.  Three generations! 

            I remember when in Bible College hearing Bruce Wilkenson of Walk Through the Bible give a message entitled “The Three Chairs” in which he traced this tendency among Christians.  He noted from Judges and the lives of people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob OR David, Solomon and Rehoboam that first-generation believers have a fire, zeal and spiritual passion about them that turns their lives completely upside down.  They know the difference Christ makes and they are under no illusion that living with one foot in the world and one in God’s kingdom is something to do.  Commitment characterizes this generation.

            The second generation turns strong convictions into loosely held beliefs.  But since they grew up under the blessing of having parents who passionately followed and personally knew Jesus, they didn’t experience for themselves the dramatic difference Christ makes from being spiritually lost.  Where their parents took bold risks, they now take timid and medium risks to live out their faith.  Whereas their parents live to please God, they tend to live to please others or make their own life more successful.

            By the time you get to the third generation, there is a tendency for spiritual ritual to replace dynamic relationship with God.  People end up doing things because they were trained to do them, not because the truth has transformed their lives significantly.  Rather than living to serve others and love them into God’s kingdom, they live to serve themselves and do what they think will make them alone happy.  Rather than God’s word being the guiding light of their lives, surrounding culture becomes the measure of what is right.  And it is that third generation in which so many people stop being God-seekers, Christians by relationship and start being simply religious, Christian in name only. 

            That is precisely what happened in Israel. The results were predictable just as they are today. 

  • The gods of the surrounding pagan culture started to become the gods of the Israelites.
  • The people of God start intermarrying with the pagan people of the culture thus further diluting any remaining vestiges of spiritual fidelity.
  • The absolute truth/commands of God is/are replaced by the relativistic beliefs of the culture.

Let me show you how this worked then and what the parallels are now. 

The true God, Yahweh, is replaced by other gods that are false.  In the case of Israel, their personal favorites were Ba’al, Astorith and Moleck.  All three were actually represented by carved or cast images or idols in the time of the Judges. 

“The word baal means “lord”; the plural is baalim. In general, Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children.

The Canaanites worshiped Baal as the sun god and as the storm god—he is usually depicted holding a lightning bolt—who defeated enemies and produced crops. They also worshiped him as a fertility god who provided children. Baal worship was rooted in sensuality and involved ritualistic prostitution in the temples. At times, appeasing Baal required human sacrifice, usually the firstborn of the one making the sacrifice (Jeremiah 19:5). The priests of Baal appealed to their god in rites of wild abandon which included loud, ecstatic cries and self-inflicted injury (1 Kings 18:28). 

EXAMPLE:  During the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, at the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted the paganism through His prophet Elijah. First, God showed that He, not Baal, controlled the rain by sending a drought lasting three-and-one-half years (1 Kings 17:1). Then Elijah called for a showdown on Mt. Carmel to prove once and for all who the true God was. All day long, 450 prophets of Baal called on Baal to send fire from heaven—surely an easy task for a god associated with lightning bolts—but “there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29). After Baal’s prophets gave up, Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and God answered immediately with fire from heaven. The evidence was overwhelming, and the people “fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!’” (verse 39).” And Elijah had those 450 false prophets of Baal killed in the valley below (Kishon). [Taken from http://www.gotquestions.org/who-Baal.html]

“Curiously, the fundamentals of Baal worship remain alive and well today. The principal pillars of Baalism were child sacrifice, sexual immorality (both heterosexual and homosexual) and pantheism (reverence of creation over the Creator).

Ritualistic Baal worship sometimes looked like this:

Adults would gather around the altar of Baal. Infants would then be burned alive as a sacrificial offering to the deity. Amid infants’ horrific and tragic screams and the stench of charred human flesh, congregants – men and women alike – would engage in bisexual orgies. The ritual of convenience was intended to produce economic prosperity by prompting Baal to bring rain for the fertility of “mother earth.”

The natural consequences of such sexual immorality – pregnancy and childbirth – and the associated financial burdens of “unplanned parenthood” were easily offset. One could either choose to engage in homosexual conduct or – with child sacrifice available on demand – could simply take part in another fertility ceremony to “terminate” the unwanted child.

It’s not hard to trace the same elements in our supposedly more enlightened, modern cultural practices.  . While Ba’al’s macabre rituals have been sanitized with flowery and euphemistic terms, its core tenets and practices remain eerily similar. The worship of “fertility” has been replaced with worship of “reproductive freedom” or “a woman’s right to choose.” Child sacrifice via burnt offering has been updated, ever so slightly, to become child sacrifice by way of clinical abortion.

Then there is the ritualistic promotion, practice and celebration of both heterosexual and homosexual immorality and promiscuity.  Radical feminism sees child-bearing and rearing as a curse. The crusade for militant “LGBT rights” seeks to normalize any and every form of sexual deviancy. And “gay marriage” activists seek to silence or destroy both the God-given institution of marriage as between one man and one woman as well as anyone who dares to deviate from that belief. These are the modern Baal worshipers of the 21st century. Lastly, the pantheistic worship of “mother earth” and the environment has been substituted – in name only – for radical environmentalism that demands subservience of everyone on earth.

So, today’s “progressive liberalism” is really just a very old book with a shiny new cover, a philosophy that is rooted in ancient pagan traditions…” of Baal worship.  [Taken from: http://www.wnd.com/2008/12/83960/#Ir15LgfPzqVcWT4y.99]

            As to the absolute truth demands of the God of both Israel and the Christian church, both have been abandoned by Jews of old and American Christians of the 21st century.  Two times, in Judges 17:6 & 21:25, God gives us this well-worn commentary on what the dominant culture looked like for the people of God in the Promised Land:

“…everyone did what was right in his own eyes….”

No clearer statement of our nation’s dominant philosophy could be given in 2015.  Just visit any state or secular college classroom, dorm or frat house and try advocating for the most basic absolute truths of sexual fidelity, truth-telling, not cheating on exams, not coveting what your neighbor has, not getting drunk and you will quickly discover just how antiquated and reviled the notion of absolute truth grounded in God and expressed in His commands is. 

That is one reason why the truths of the book of Judges have so very much to say to our modern American church and culture.  The parallels are eerily and tragically similar.  But the solutions are equally powerful

So let’s spend the rest of this morning’s teaching looking at solutions…and seeing how we can apply them to what every one of us is experiencing living in this modern American culture. 

One of the most frequently occurring phrases in the book of Judges has to do with what the people of God…the disobedient people of Goddid when God let them experience the oppression and servitude that comes when God’s people abandon Him and His word.  Instead of experiencing the forgiving, gracious, generous and loving lordship of the Living God, the nation would fall under the ravaging, abusive, wicked and destructive domination of the pagan nations around them.

            Listen to God’s general introduction to this sadly repetitive cycle in Judges 2:10ff.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever 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.

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. 18 Whenever 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 relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

20 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 23 The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

After enough years of that kind of oppressive living, they would “cry out” to God (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:6,7; 10:10).  In essence, they would come to their senses about the blessing of living under God’s leadership and the curse of living under pagan oppressors.  That “awakening” to the truth that they needed and wanted God would always lead to a “crying out” to God for salvation, help and deliverance.  And consistently, God would come to their aid by raising up a judge that was empowered by the Holy Spirit to throw off the chains of oppression.  Often that took the form of destroying an enemy army or people. 

            God’s people didn’t deserve that deliverance.  But God had promised that He would hear and answer whenever they repented of their rebellion.  So when they did, God kept his Word and delivered. 

Here’s the first really encouraging truth from this book:  When people cry out in repentance, God hears and responds with redemption.  Think for just a moment about those two critical words—“repentance” and “redemption”.

  • What is real “repentance”? Agreeing with God about the destructive nature of our sin and turning to Him for deliverance.  (A recognition of powerlessness on our part to deliver ourselves from sin’s grip.  This is the 1st of 12 steps any addict must come to in order to begin to break their cycle of addiction:  “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.”)
  • What is God’s “redemption”? Buying us back from the clutches of sin by the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

APP:  When the church becomes deeply dissatisfied with the sinfulness that has led to our culture’s domination over us and our children, then we will begin to call and cry out to God for real change in US.  

Historically that has been evidenced in reignited prayer gatherings and urgent, desperate praying.  Failure to do so will give us more of the same functional paganism in the church and loss of our children and grandchildren to the gods of our culture. But… when people cry out in repentance, God hears and responds with redemption. 

[PRAYER TIME for the hearts, minds and bodies of our children and grandchildren?]

There is a second great principle from Judges:  God isn’t looking for perfect saints; just willing soldiers. 

Let’s look at the “perfect saints” issue for a moment.  Every one of the 12 judges in this book whose story is recorded in any measure of specificity or clarity was clearly an imperfect follower of God, sometimes stunningly so.  Just look at three of them—Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.

  • Gideon is one of the few judges most of us can mention by name. He’s the guy who was such a stud of a man that he was threshing out his grain at night, in a winepress, under cover of darkness so that he could escape the attention of the local raiding bands of Canaanites. 

God comes to him in the form of the Angel of God and tells him he is being tapped to deliver his people.  Look at Judges 6:11ff—

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

The angel of the Lord waits and then consumes this offering with fire and disappears before Gideon.  Gideon then realizes it was God he was talking to and fears that God will strike him dead.  But God instead tells him not to be afraid (apparently the dominant characteristic of his life).  So Gideon sets up an altar there and names it “The Lord is Peace” or Jehovah Shalom. 

But Gideon is so doubtful of that prospect that twice he tests God’s promise before he steps out in faith by doing the whole “fleece thing.”  Rather than take what we commonly refer to as “fleece” (like what I’m wearing this morning), he takes an actual sheep’s fleece, lays it out overnight and asks God to, on the first night, make the grass all wet around it while keeping his fleece dry.  When God does that, he then reverses the deal and asks God to make the ground dry and the fleece wet with water…which God does. 

Gideon isn’t really the best example of faith here.  He’s more like a stellar example of doubt mixed with faith.  He wants some physical proof before he responds to what God has already promised to do. Usually that’s a sure recipe for failure and a rebuke from God.

Then to top it all off, the night he is actually to obey the very puzzling and totally faith-demanding attack strategy of God using nothing but torches, breaking pottery and shouting soldiers, God, seeing his continuing doubt, invites him and his servant to scout out what is going on in the camp of this massive enemy army.  God even goes so far as to say, “If you still have doubts, go listen to what they are saying tonight.”  So he does. 

As God would have it, the first tent he crouches outside and listens to is one where one of the soldiers is recounting a dream he just had that the soldier clearly understands as a bad omen that Gideon’s army is going to wipe them out.  That is just what Gideon needs to hear…and the rest is history. 

APPGideon is good news for the rest of us.  If God can use a guy like this with so much fear, so much doubt and so much timidity, then surely he can use us, even with our doubts, fears and uncertainties.  Don’t diminish God’s patience with you.  Don’t believe the lie that your doubts will define you.  God isn’t looking for perfect saints, just willing soldiers.

2.) Then there is Jephthah.  He’s the son of a prostitute whose father wouldn’t even stand up for him as his son.  Jephthah scares me…not because he’s such a great model of spiritual sensitivity and wisdom…but because God uses him despite his absolute lack of wisdom and his rash bargaining with God. 

Jepthah made a vow to God that if God would give him victory over the Ammonites, he would devote the first thing that came out of the door of his house as a burnt offering to God.  So, after God gives him victory and he devastates 20 Ammonite towns, he returns home to find his own daughter, Mizpah, is the first thing out the door.  She is dancing for joy at her father’s victory, only to learn that he has sworn before God to make her a sacrificial offering in order to fulfil his rash and godless vow. 

Jephthah ends his life exploits by getting in an argument with his fellow Israelites, the Ephraimites, and killing 42,000 of them before it’s all over.  Wouldn’t you agree that God isn’t looking for perfect saints… but He does desire willing soldiers who will not shrink back from the battle?

3.) Lastly there is Samson, that paragon of moral virtue and sexual fidelity!  NOT!  Most of us are acquainted with his story.  Samson is a birth miracle as his mother was sterile and childless.  His parents raise him as a God-fearing Nazirite, “set apart to God from birth” (13:5). 

            But fresh into manhood, Samson demands his father get a young Philistine woman he’s infatuated with as his wife.  When her allegiances clearly fall more with her people than Samson, he throws a tantrum, kills 30 Philistines and sets their grain fields on fire by tying torches to the tails of foxes and releasing them lit into the fields ready for harvest.  When the Philistines try to retaliate, he kills another thousand of them with a donkey’s jawbone!  This is not a guy you want to cross.

            Next we find him in the arms of a prostitute in Gaza where he destroys the gates of the city (Judges 16:1-3).  The last chapter of his life finds him falling for another Philistine woman, Delilah.  She becomes his lover and, over time, pulls out of him the secret of his strength from God.  Samson is taken captive, his eyes are gouged out, and he is put to grinding grain in the prison of the Philistines in Gaza.  Delilah goes home with 28 pounds of silver for her betrayal. 

It all comes to an end when Samson finally commits suicide by bringing the temple of Dagon crashing down around him and killing thousands of Philistines and their rulers in the process. 

God is obviously not looking for perfect saints.  But He is looking for willing soldiers.

But what of the “soldier” requirement?  Each of these men was charged by God to become a soldier.  What characterizes good soldiers?

  • Soldiers are willing to die for a cause bigger than themselves.
  • Soldiers are willing to get dirty, bloody, tired and torn up in the battle for the right.
  • Soldiers do not count their own lives of primary importance; they count the lives and freedom of their people as paramount.
  • Soldiers may be fearful, but as we heard from General Patton in last week’s sermon, they fight on until victory or death silence those fears.

APP: Anyone here a perfect saint?  O.K., so now the question is, how many of us will be willing soldiers? 

  • That may not mean you end up leading an army of people to hit the streets and share Jesus with a thousand people in Spokane. But it does mean you fight any enemy in your life…a habit, an addiction, a weakness…that has plagued your family for generations.  YOU become the warrior who values victory more than the status-quo of daily defeat. 
  • It will mean you fight for your marriage…or your family… or your own integrity day in and day out, year after year, not perfectly, but because you’ve said “yes” to God’s call to soldier on.

APP:  What battle(s) is God asking you to fight?  Do they seem impossible?  That’s because they are…so that WHEN God gives the victory, He gets the glory. 

[PRAY for the battles we are facing living in a godless culture.]

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