When the Cat is Away
Good evening. Rob in teaching Wednesday evening bible class was giving us a picture of some of the Judges from the Old Testament. I thought just for a partial break in the sermons linked to Romans this evening we would take a high level view of the book of Judges.
I'm pretty certain those who are familiar with Judges may not be so excited about this because it is a dark, dismal, depressing book but I will try my best to bring out something more about it as we go along. We’re not going to look at it verse by verse because that means we would be here for about the next 20 years at least. But what we're going to do is look a little at Judges one and two tonight and an overall pattern. Just to give you a theme of what happened in the book.
The Book of Judges is made up of poetry and riddles, but mainly narrative history. Its author is anonymous but it’s usually assumed that Samuel, the prophet wrote it around 1086-1004 B.C. The book’s purposes are to teach that God is faithful, that He will bless His people but if His people turn their backs on Him, then they're going to be punished for their sin of not remaining loyal and faithful.
Let me give a small outline of the book.
In Judges 1:1 - Judges 3:6, you find that Israel has failed to keep their part of the Covenant and they did not entirely conquer and take control of all of the land that was promised to them. They were warned what would happen in Numbers 33:55-56 – “55. 'But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. 56. 'Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.' ” This problem unfortunately grows way out of control at times.
In Judges 3:7 - Judges 16, you see God raising up judges to rescue Israel several times. This starts a vicious cycle, where the Israelites sin, then God rescues them, they worship God for a while and sin starts all over again and so forth. You will see that these rescues were temporary because we find that the nation’s obedience only lasted as long as the life of that particular judge.
In Judges 17-21, you see Israel sinking into a horrid state of moral demise and ruin. It’s mainly in the tribes of Dan and Benjamin that we see just how far man has really turned from the God of Abraham. The tribe of Dan had almost completely given in to the worship of idols, even to the point that they practically defend it.
We will see later, that the entire tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out down to 600 men in a violent and vicious civil war. It’s during this time we find these sad words in Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
That’s a sad picture.
Q: How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two: one to change it and another one to change it back again.
It is getting more difficult to find a joke that will not offend someone or some group. As far as I know politicians are not yet a protected class. Humor is one place where we see concern about political correctness but it is also a concern in normal speech where we might be trying to teach. We live in times of political correctness where people are afraid to say anything against anyone else or what they are doing because they might be sued. We are afraid someone will think we are being judgmental. While there is good that comes from telling people not to use hurtful speech, unfortunately political correctness can also be used to hide or suppress the truth because people don't like to be told that what they're doing is wrong. I can think of no better way to hide evil then to tuck it in with something that can be seen as good.
Yet, God has spoken. His rules are clear. He didn't give Israel the “ten alternatives”, He gave Israel the Ten Commandments. It is important for us today that we know both the blessings of being obedient and the consequences of being disobedient in life.
As we look at this sad book we're going to see the consequences of a people who refused to be obedient to God. This really, truly is the most evil and darkest time in the history of Israel as a nation.
I. A Dark and Evil Time: Moses has died and God appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Although Joshua succeeded in entering the land, he failed to bring them rest. As we will see later when Joshua dies, everything quickly went downhill fast. The judges of the Old Testament arose during a period of internal anarchy and external conflict, covering the time between the death of Joshua and the anointing of King Saul.
A. Let’s look in Judges 2:16-17 it says; “16. Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so.” What a sad verse that is, isn’t it?
B. This was a time of disaster on a colossal scale for Israel. We all know that God’s people were led to Canaan to conquer the land, but instead they became infected with the idolatry of Canaan. They were to make no treaties with the inhabitants, and they were not to marry any foreigners, but it got to the point where you didn't know who was an Israelites or who was a Canaanite. They were so much mixed together you couldn’t tell difference between the two.
C. They were happy to settle among the Canaanites, to the point where you didn’t know who the Israelites were and who the Canaanites were. Instead of them driving out the Canaanites, they became like them and practiced what they practiced.
II. Like them: Right from the very first few verses in the book of Judges we can see Israel departed from God and totally take on the practices of the Canaanites. Judges 1:6 – “Then Adoni-Bezek fled, and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.” Adoni-Bezek was one of the Kings in the area. They chased him and caught him. What did they do? They cut off his thumbs and his big toes. That’s graphic, isn’t it? When you read Judges you will find a lot is graphic.
A. What was Israel supposed to do? They were supposed to kill off the Canaanites and supposed to get rid of them all. But what did they do? They mutilated a captured king, which was the very practice of the Canaanites. Right away we see that they have taken on and are practicing what the Canaanites are doing.
1. Look at Judges 1:28 – “And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out.”
2. What were they supposed to do? They were supposed to drive out all of the Canaanites from the land of Canaan. That’s what we read in Deuteronomy 7:1-5, if you remember but what did they do? The Israelites kept them and forced the Canaanites to work for them.
B. It is easy to allow the world around us to influence us. That’s why Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 – “1. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
1. The world is trying to conform us to its standards. The world tries to conform us to its ways. Paul says we need to be on guard against that.
2. God doesn't want us to think like the world thinks He doesn't want us to compromise with the world and go along with the world’s ways.
3. We sing the hymn, ‘This world is not my home’, but there are times when we actually get far too comfortable in the world we live in. We make it home. God has a higher calling for us and we will have to answer to a higher authority.
C. Israel was happy to compromise with the world around them during this time. That compromise with the Canaanites led them into idolatry, inter-marriage, and eventually to having no rules. As we Judges 17:6 – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Anarchy. What a sad picture this is of God’s chosen people.
1. Of course we think, we don’t fall down and worship idols today. Think about that carefully. The old gods are still with us today, they’ve simply updated their appearance, and they’ve accommodated themselves to modern times. They still claim to provide meaning to life and they still promise to provide for our personal desires. They still demand wholehearted commitment from their worshippers.
2. If that is true who are these idols? What are they called? They are called, materialism, comfort, power, and immorality. The outcome of Israel’s compromise was the shocking reality that their real enemy became God Himself. He ensured that when they went out to battle, the outcome was defeat.
III. His grace: God who is rich in mercy, in His grace, raised up leaders to bring Israel back in line. The judges were deliverers, and they were charged with restoring the peace. They were spiritual as well as political leaders. There are twelve judges listed. We are given a lot of information about some of them, while other judges are simply just mentioned. As you go through this sad, almost depressing book, you will see that everything rises and falls on leadership.
A. We will also see that God uses weak, imperfect people to accomplish His work, and He uses the most unlikely of leaders, to demonstrate His grace and power. For Israel during the period of the Judges it was a time of war.
B. As we mentioned earlier, the Jewish nation was charged with driving out the Canaanites. I wonder though, why would God send them to a land that was already occupied? Why didn’t He send them to a place where no-one lived so they could settle there and not have any influence around them? After all they had spent forty years of hardship in the wilderness and now they were going to have to deal with internal and external conflict.
1. In answer to my wondering I find in Judges 3:1-4 – “1. Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan 2. (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), 3. namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. 4. And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.”
2. God led them to Canaan to test them. He wanted to see if they would be obedient to Him. His people are to trust Him, to trust in His mighty power, to trust that He would help them take hold of the Promised Land. They needed to remember that they were holy, the chosen and His treasured possession.
3. In Deuteronomy 7:6 – “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” He wanted them to remember who they were as a people, and they needed to know just how holy they were to be.
C. Remember we are now dealing with a new generation of Israelites from those who wandered in the desert. Judges 2:10 says; “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” There are times when we chat to our kids about music, and we might mention a group called the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys or the Eagles. Chances are they will just look at you with blank expressions. If you talk to them about Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln again they may look at you as if to say, ‘who are they!’ That’s because they are of a different generation and they haven’t listened to any of what they now call ‘old music’. They know little about Churchill or Lincoln because they haven’t been taught about them.
1. If we don’t talk to our children about the past, then they can’t learn anything from it. If we don’t talk to our kids about the Bible, they won’t learn anything about God.
2. We know that parents are to bring up their children properly, and children are expected to respond wisely to parental training. This next generation of Israelites was held responsible for their own spiritual failings. The text says that they didn’t ‘know’ God, that doesn’t mean they weren’t aware of God, it means, they did not regard or acknowledge God as their Lord.
3. Things haven’t changed much today, have they? Most people of the world are aware of the God of the Bible but they refuse to have any regard for Him or acknowledge Him as their God.
4. An atheist said, ‘If there is a God, may he prove himself by striking me dead right now.’ Nothing happened. ‘You see, there is no God.’ A Christian replied and said, ‘You’ve only proved that He is a gracious God.’
D. As you go through this book you will see that Israel is almost acting like children in a classroom. You know, when the teachers leaves the room for a while, you can almost guarantee that the kids will get up to all sorts of mischief. When the cat’s away, the mice will play as the saying goes. In effect the Israelites were still immature in their thinking of God. Their view was incomplete about the power of God and all that had been and would be done for them.
1. That’s what it was like in the time of the judges, when they appeared, everyone went back to their best behavior but as soon as a judge dies, the children of Israel got involved in all kinds of sinful practices. Any whim that struck their fancy drew them off.
2. Judges 1:1-2 begins by telling us; “1. Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, "Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?'' 2. And the Lord said, "Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”
3. Judges 2:1-4 then goes on to tell us; “1. Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: "I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you. 2. 'And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.' But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? 3. "Therefore I also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.' '' 4. And so it was, when the Angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice and wept.”
4. Next Judges 2:16 tells us; “Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” It seems that whenever we are left to ourselves, you can almost guarantee that it won’t be long before we find ourselves in deep trouble. God had delivered them from their terrible slavery in Egypt and He had led them through the wilderness giving them blessing after blessing.
5. They were His favored people, they were the chosen ones. He led them, He fed them and He protected them and eventually, He led them into the land of Canaan, which was their Promised Land. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, and it was given to them not because they were so great but because God had promised this land to their ancestors.
E. Just before Moses dies, God said to him in Deuteronomy 34:4 – “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” All they had to do was enter the land, destroy the people who were living there and take up residence. He was their God, their redeemer, He gave them law but Israel failed to stay faithful to God and His laws.
1. It got the point where God had to judge the very people He loved so much. Make no mistake about it, God will judge. Think about it, when Israel entered Canaan, the sky was the limit. God had promised them the land and all they had to do was claim it by faith.
2. Notice how they started, they were blessed with God’s foresight, Judges 1:2 says; “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.” This is said in future tense. God says He has already given them the land even though the Israelites haven’t done a thing yet. In other words, God was going before them, preparing the way for certain victory. There was no way they could lose as long as God was behind them, ahead of them, above them and all around them.
IV. His Blessings: As Christian today, we have the same promise, that’s why the apostle Paul can confidently say in Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?” They were blessed with God’s protection.
A. Judges 1:19 tells us that; “So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the inhabitants of the mountains...” This shows us that God was actively involved in helping Israel conquer the land of Canaan. He not only prepared the way, He also protected them along the way. They also had the blessing of God’s power, Judges 1:4 – “Then Judah went up, and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek.” This tells us who the real power on the battlefield was, it was God. He is the God of all power.
B. Again, we too as Christians have that same power available today and at work within us. Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”
1. What other blessing did they have? They had the blessing of God’s promises, beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12:1, God had been promising to give the nation of Israel a homeland. You might say they were blessed beyond their wildest dreams.
2. As we’ve already seen all those blessings were quickly going to be removed from them by God Himself. This new generation of Israelites forgot their heritage and denied the very God who made them what they were. Slowly but surely they went down the compromising route. The conformed.
3. God warned them before they entered the land back in Numbers 33:51-54, that they must destroy the people of Canaan but they also had another warning. Numbers 33:55-56 – “55. 'But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. 56. 'Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” Sadly as you read the book of Judges you will find this was to become a harsh reality for Israel.
V. Their failure: Look at the second half of Judges 1:19 – “... but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron.” After some success, Judah ended up facing Canaanites which they feared because of the Canaanites power and because of that fear they didn’t drive them out of the land.
A. Judges 1:27-31 – “27. However, Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. 28. And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out. 29. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them. 30. Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute. 31. Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob.”
1. Here the text tells us that there were some Canaanites they didn’t fear and Israel forced them to work for them but again they didn’t drive them out of the land.
2. Judges 1:32-33 – “32. So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out. 33. Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them.” These verses tell us that they didn’t fear these people, but they were quite happy to live alongside them, but again they didn’t drive them out of the land.
B. Folks, isn’t there a danger of history repeating itself with God’s children today? There are some people in the world that we fear and we don’t want to be around. There are other people we don’t mind being around and yet there are others we actually like spending a lot of time with. We spend so much time surrounded by sin that sometimes we become desensitized to it.
1. I enjoy watching action adventure films and SciFi films and I did not realize just how desensitized I had become to some of the content. The amount of inappropriate language and off-color situations in films is unbelievable. I mean I just sit down and watch it, but the full import of what I was seeing dawned on me slowly. I thought I was seeing just the story but when I looked at a second viewing, I started to notice all the other things going on, I was shocked.
2. Instead of maintaining our spiritual purity as Christians, we begin to be desensitized, get comfortable with, and then adopt the ways of the world. There are times when we talk like them, we walk like them, we do what they do, go where they go, watch what they watch, like what they like, drink what they drink. If we’re not careful we will become like Israel during the time of the judges.
3. We can very easily adopt the attitude that this sin or that sin isn’t all that bad anymore. We can very easily allow the walls of separation that existed between the church and the world to erode to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
C. I am reminded of Proverbs 6:27 – “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” In other words, do we really believe that we can play around with sin without getting burnt? Do we really believe that God is going to allow His people to sin without being punished?
1. Because of their sin, Israel faced the Lord’s judgment and as you will see as you read the Old Testament they were going to have to endure a divine sentence from God Himself.
2. I know this is a tough message to listen to but it’s not all doom and gloom.
God’s Love: Turn your Bibles to Judges 2:16 I’m going to read from the KJV. “Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.”
Isn’t that amazing? In spite of their failures, God still sent them men to lead them and to guide them. As you see, sometimes God’s people listened, and sometimes they didn’t. Despite all their sin and their hard heartedness God still loves them and God is patient with them, giving them every chance to set things right.
Oh how we need to hear more of that kind of message today, don’t we? If only we can be as loving and patient with each other as we expect God to be with us.
We say, ‘God I’ve let You and myself down so many times this week and I’m so sorry.’ God says, ‘I know you have, nevertheless, I still love you.’
We say, ‘God I’m really struggling with sin in my life, I’m so sorry, please forgive me’, help me, give me strength. God says, ‘I know you are, nevertheless, I’m being patient with you and if you repent, I will forgive you.’
Perhaps you’re not a Christian this evening and you’re thinking, ‘I’ve done way too many bad things in my life for God to have any interest in me’. God says, ‘I know you have, nevertheless, I love you so much, I sent my Son to die for you anyway.’
You might be thinking, ‘I believe in you God but I’m not certain I can handle being a Christian yet, I have too many things going on.’ God says, ‘I know you have and I understand, nevertheless, your time may be shorter then you think and while you tarry I’m being patient with you, but time will run out’
Folks, although the Book of Judges is a record of Israel’s very dark history, which can be very challenging to read and apply today there are things we can learn. We can see there are blessings for being obedient to God. We can see that there are consequences to be paid when we are disobedient to God, but if you take the time to read very carefully in-between the lines, you will see the love and grace of God like you’ve never seen it before.
There may be somebody here this evening who is not a member of the body of Christ.
You could believe in your heart Jesus Christ the Son of God and you are willing to openly confess your faith and repent of your sins - we will be glad to assist you and baptize you into the body of Christ. If you're a child of God and you've given into the pressure and as a consequence of giving into the pressure you’ve gotten into sin. Our God is gracious, God is merciful. He will forgive you and take the sin from you.
We will assist you. We will pray for you, will pray with you, will do the very best we can to try to encourage you. If you are subject to the Gospel call in any way let it be made known while we stand and sing.
Invitation song: ???
Reference sermon: Mike GloverPrint
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