Sermon, Sunday June 5th, 2016
Pentecost 3C, Story Week 8
Judges: A Few Good Men…And Women
Psalm 138, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
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.”
What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word “judge”? Some might think of Judge Judy. Others think of the person in the black robe who hands down a jail sentence.
In The Story we come to a 300 year period known as the period of the Judges. Here, these people God raises up from time–to–time are not tied to a bench and don’t wear black robes and white wigs! We have Samson, Deborah, Gideon and the like.
They are God’s short-term fixers to stop his people spiraling completely out of control. They are like Panadol. Panadol does not cure the disease but helps relieve it. Panadol often needs to be used repeatedly to stop things from getting worse.
Seven hundred years after God’s promise to Abraham, the people of God are in their own land, God is present in the tabernacle. The people have God’s law to guide their lives. There is that detailed sacrificial system in place to provide a way of them gaining repeated forgiveness for human sin. The people were truly blessed by God.
But there is a problem. That old Adam problem of naturally being inclined to trust other things, gods and people for personal and communal wellbeing, prosperity and safety is still running in their veins. We ominously hear repeatedly in Judges that this new generation after that of Joshua, forgot the Lord and “did evil in the sight of the Lord”.
After the initial success in controlling most of the promised land under Joshua, they failed to drive out all the Canaanites with their worship practices. This led to the sin of placing their trust in other things and people and the gods of the local inhabitants for their safety and wellbeing. (Idolatry) Judges 1:28; 2:12
Just goes to show that who we live with and who we give our heart to can have a huge impact on our relationship with the Lord and our experience of his peace and joy in our lives.
In Israel’s case, they went with the Baal’s (male) and Ashorah’s (female) gods believing that sexual intercourse was the means to fertility not just in the human body but in the land. The more sex, the more rain and better crops! Thus worship rituals included sexual intercourse, use of prostitutes. On special occasions or when things were really bad, to appease the gods the sacrificing of a child took place.
The other huge mistake that God’s people made after Joshua’s time was that they did not teach their children about God and his great acts of deliverance. Joshua 2:10
As the saying goes, “Christianity is only one generation away from extinction”. Those of us who know and love the Word and the acceptance and love of God which it proclaims need to take note here. The Spirit calls us to intentionally shape the children and young people in God’s word by whatever means we can muster – Faith 5 at home, worship on Sunday, Kids Connect during worship, Child, Youth and Family ministry, school, home, church, family time……
So God’s people have taken on far too much of the culture and have forgotten to teach the Story, and so have become disconnected from the Lord and his mission for them.
What is the Lord to do? Can he just let the whole promise go and let his people descend into terrible darkness? Obviously from what he has already done for his people to make them who they are and give them a life and a job and a land, he cannot.
So he sends his special leaders to arrest the decline. There are six of them, the most famous being Gideon and Samson.
The two reasons that God raises up the judges.
God has blessed Israel in the eyes of all the other nations.
- God wants other nations to know His goodness and blessing.
- God powerfully intervenes when His people cry out to Him for help. When the people pray, God responds with deliverance.
So, we see this spin cycle at work among God’s people and I bet among us today too. Here’s how it goes;
Movement 1– idolatry – placing trust in anyone and anything more than the Lord and his Word and his shape for living.
This comes out in the people bowing down to the culture – replacing the worship of the Lord on his terms and in his ways with the worship pagan gods any way they want.
Movement 2– oppression. God removes His hand of protection and allows surrounding nations to oppress His people. Judges 2:22
All in all, God uses 6 pagan nations to oppress His people: Mesopotamians oppress for 8 years; the Moabites for 18 years; the Canaanites for 20 years; the Midianites for 7 years; the Ammonites for 18 years; and the Philistines for 40 years. That’s a total of 111 years of oppression that did not have to happen!
Movement 3– repentance. Finally, when it gets bad enough; when money is tight, crops are sparse, people’s family and good reputation are under threat, the oppressed people cry out to God for help. They “turn” or “return” to the Lord they once knew. They trust his promise that he loves. He accepts and forgives. . They make a decision to do a 180 degree change in direction.
And thank God, God responds! He does not have to or need to but simply does so for his peoples’ sake! He raises up a judge; these special short-term leaders who militarily bring some cessation to the downward spiral into chaos.
Othniel delivers them from the Mesopotamians; Ehud delivers them from the Moabites; Deborah from the Canaanites; Gideon from the Midianites; Jephthah from the Ammorites and Samson from the Philistines. (…and Orkin from the Termites)
Movement 4– deliverance. It is crucial to hear that it is the Lord who orchestrates the deliverance, not the human judge.
There is no doubt that the judges were flawed human beings. They are never presented as anything more than this. In fact, two of the judges are a sign of our flawed humanity.
Gideon in Judges 7 is seen to be very human. Gideon was from the weakest clan and was the weakest in his family. God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 so that the deliverance will be from God, not Gideon and the army.
And then there is that long-haired strong man; Samson (Judges 13-16). Samson makes the mistake of revealing the secret of his strength to Delilah (Judges 16). It is clear that it was Samson’s pride and immaturity led to his death.
The nasty thing about this “Spin Cycle” is that each time, it gets progressively worse. The distance between God and his people gets more distant. The descent into detestable things is deeper.
We soon hear for the first time in the scriptures that a new leadership is needed. Pretty soon their will come from the people the demand for a king like all the other nations have. But that is another story.
The Spirit calls the Christian person to see the cycle in real life as we hear the Judges.
Can you identify which stage of the cycle best applies to your life right now?
Sin: We sin—we don’t keep God on the throne of our lives. 1 John 1:8
- I’m chasing the wrong thing right now.
- I have mixed up priorities.
- I have an addition or an addictive personality and it has captured me.
- I keep mistreating other people.
Oppression: We are oppressed—our fellowship with God and others is broken. 1 John 1:6
- My relationship with God has been affected.
- I am destroying my relationships with others.
- It is affecting or will affect my physical and emotional health.
- It is affecting or will affect me financially.
Repentance: We repent/confess—we are restored through the blood of Jesus. 1 John 1:9
At this stage, you identify you’re in sin or oppression, so you have two choices:
- I am not ready to come clean with God or others who love me.
- I am ready to come clean with God and others who love me right now.
Deliverance: We experience deliverance—we experience joy and fruitfulness. 1 John 1:7
Friend, the Lord does not give up on you. The final leader judge has come and inflicted maximum and complete damage on the detestable evil one.
Jesus the judge has paraded through hell in victory and released all those captive to the spin cycle of hatred, addiction, fear, violence and the dark pain they cause us.
If you are broken hearted right now, you’re in the right place! Out of a broken heart of repentance, Jesus from the cross and from the air and light calls to us, “It is finished!”
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavily weighed down”. Learn from me. Take my shape, my burden. It is light, it is joy.
You are not the devil’s toy but my loved man, woman, child, teenager”.
Come to the altar, eat the body, drink the blood, receive the life, the forgiveness, the healing. Trust that the spin cycle is over. It has lost its sting.
It does not now always get worse. Jesus has stopped it from spiraling into chaos. He is our shape, our guide, our resurrection, our life – constantly.
Trust him with all your heart, mind and strength and in his name help others do the same – in love.
Chapter 8, a few good men and women
Timeless Truth: The Call vs. The Culture – An Eternal Problem
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
The nation of Israel had a place to call home at last. Settling into the Promised Land enabled them to leave behind their wandering ways and fulfill one of the key promises to Abraham: a land for God’s people to occupy. But, failing to evict the Canaanites from the land, these pagan neighbors became a toxic influence on a nation called to be different.
After the death of Joshua, God’s people felt this pull of worldly culture and a destructive pattern emerged:
- Israel turned again and again to the worship of pagan gods.
- God brought divine judgment.
- Israel cried out for God’s help.
- God raised up a judge to save them.
This cycle of sin became the pattern of life in Israel for the next 300 years.
Early on, Israel was conquered by the Canaanite king, Jabin. God appointed Deborah, a prophet, judge, and strong leader to deliver her people. She and her military leader, Barak, defeated the powerful Canaanite army led by Sisera. He escaped and took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael, who killed him while he slept. Israel had been delivered for now, but the cycle would continue.
Israel was later oppressed by the Midianites. God called Gideon out of nowhere to deliver His people. Gideon was pretty sure that God has mistaken him for some well-built four-star Israelite commander and asked twice for a miraculous sign. God confirmed His intentions and Gideon gathered 32,000 troops to take on the vast Midianite army. God, however, trimmed their forces to just 300 men. He used them to rout the Midianites and the people enjoyed freedom…for a while.
The cycle continued and Israel was soon dominated by the Philistines. This time God prepared a deliverer by promising a child to a barren woman. This child, Samson, was to be raised as a Nazirite, who was set apart to God. His hair was not to be cut and he was to drink no wine. He was well known for his superhuman strength and less than super character, especially in the company of beautiful women. His second wife, Delilah, betrayed him by cutting his hair so he would forfeit his advantage and God’s favor. Samson himself embodied this insidious cycle that had enslaved Israel, with his saw-tooth history of indiscretions and victories.
As a result, the Philistines took him captive and gouged out his eyes. But his hair grew back, and his strength returned. Samson’s last day was his best one. He was brought into the Philistine temple to entertain their leaders. He prayed to the LORD, collapsed the pillars of the temple and defeated the Philistines at last.
God is never bashful about His intentions for His people. He never tolerates sin and, at the same time, never breaks His covenant with His people. Israel may not have fully understood God’s discipline, but over and over He had to bring them to their knees in order to bring them to Himself.
Icebreaker Question: Have you ever been rescued from a dangerous or difficult situation? What happened?
- Israel is constantly running from the true God to other false gods. What are some of the false gods in our culture today? Which of them have you trusted?
- False gods trigger a cycle: a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance. What are some destructive cycles you have seen in your own life?
- Do you think that the Israelites did a good job of passing their faith to the next generation? How can we do this better in the church and in our own families?
- How would you describe Deborah? In what way does her story influence your view of women in leadership?
- Do you think Gideon’s request for a sign was an act of faith or an act of faithlessness? Does his faith change over time?
- Your friend, Samson, confides in you that he has trouble with women but doesn’t understand why. What would you tell him?
- In what ways was Samson a faithful man of God? In what ways was he not?
- What was Samson’s true weakness? How can you deal with your weaknesses before they become your downfall?
- Where do you see God’s grace in this chapter?
- Which character in this chapter stands out to you and why? How can you be more like them?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
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