February 23rd, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jdg 2:11-19 ESV] 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. 16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
We are progressing through the 1-year Bible reading plan and in about five weeks we will be reaching the Book of Judges. I taught a series of lessons on this book at Dillingham Presbyterian Church in North Carolina in 2017. Based on that series I determined to preach this sermon, which will function in a way as a survey of the Book of Judges. This should give you better context and understanding when you get to those readings.
Now, perhaps the first thing that a person should know when reading the Book of Judge is what a judge is. The events of this book occur in a time before there was a Monarchy in Israel; before there was a King. The book of Judges covers perhaps a wider period of time than almost any other Biblical book except Genesis. The events of the book of Judges occur from the death of Joshua (1390? B.C.) and go to the crowning of Samuel as king (1051 B.C.). It is a history of the earliest years of the Israelite occupation of Canaan. I liken this book to being the “Dark Ages” of Israel’s history. It is a period between the relatively good early age (Moses/Joshua) and the golden age of Solomon/David. And in this period without Kings, God would raise up certain leaders—called judges—to deliver the people from foreign oppression. These “judges” may have at times functioned like a judge would function today in determining right from wrong in some court case, but that is not how we are to think of their primary function.
Judges are deliverers. They are sent by God to deliver His people Israel from foreign oppression.
You might think that a single judge would be sufficient for this! And that is correct … when God sent a judge to lead the people in revolt against a foreign oppressor, it was successful. Why then are there “judges” plural?
By various methods of determination they are anywhere from 4 to 20 judges. But, there are 6 “major judges” who have significant storylines in the Book of Judges. These are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.
And the reason there are so many judges is that the people of God continue to fall away from Him. And God punishes them with the loss of independence, the loss of land, and the oppression of a foreign nation; each time a different nation comes to rule of them.
So this cyclical pattern is regularly recounted in the Book of Judges. The pattern is as follows:
- Israel “does evil in the eyes of Yahweh,”
- the people are given into the hands of their enemies and cry out to Yahweh,
- Yahweh raises up a leader (a judge),
- the “spirit of Yahweh” comes upon the leader,
- the leader manages to defeat the enemy, and
- peace is regained.
The Book of Judges is a testament to God’s faithfulness even in man’s continued sinfulness. It is a sad contrast to the book of Joshua which chronicles the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites for their obedience in conquering the land. In Judges, the people are disobedient and idolatrous, leading to their many defeats. Yet God continues to send Judges to deliver His people from their enemies.
Looking at the book of Judges is also fitting in that in our study on the Gospel of John we have reached the story of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. And here in Judges we continually find the nation dead in sin and trespass against the Lord. And who rescues Israel? Does man do so by himself? Certainly not. GOD raises up a judge, has His Spirit to work in that judge, and lead the nation back to Him.
We see the cycle explained in our passage today; a sort of preface to the Book of Judges. The cycle is actually covered three times in just our passage.
THE FIRST TIME THE CYCLE IS EXPLAINED (vs. 11-16)
1. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.
2. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth [foreign Gods]. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And they were in terrible distress.
3-6.Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
THE SECOND TIME THE CYCLE IS EXPLAINED (v. 17)
17Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so.
THE THIRD TIME THE CYCLE IS EXPLAINED (v. 18-19)
18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
AN EXAMPLE – EHUD
Let’s look at one example then from a story in the book of Judges. The cyclical pattern repeats itself a number of times in the book, but let’s look at just one example, that of the Ehud. This is one of the shorter stories, and really just a good story in itself.
From Judges 3:12-30
[Jdg 3:12-30 ESV] 12 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD [there’s step one in the cyclical pattern – Israel “does evil in the eyes of Yahweh”], and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. [there’s step two in the pattern – the people are given into the hands of their enemies; this time Eglon, king of Moab from across the Jordan river] 13 He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. 14 And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. 15 Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD [there’s the second part of step two – they cry out to Yahweh], and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. [and there’s step three – Yahweh raises up a leader (a judge), this time Ehud. Now in this account it doesn’t say that the Spirit of God came upon Ehud. This doesn’t happen in each case] The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17 And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. 20 And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. 22 And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them. 24 When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” 25 And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor. [there’s step five in the cyclical pattern – the leader manages to defeat the enemy] 26 Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. 28 And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. 29 And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years. [there finally is step six – peace is regained.]
What can we learn from the Book of Judges and its cycles?
APPLICATION 1: It is possible for the believer’s life to display the marks of success and yet be a failure in the eyes of God. Christian success is not necessarily the same as pleasing God.
We see again and again in the book of Judges that for the Israelites success “gets to the head.” When things are going well, they forget all about the Lord. This explains in part why the Lord send foreign invaders, and why in our life he send trials and tribulations. It is so that the Israelites, and it is so that WE also, cry out the Lord for salvation.
When have you prayed the hardest? It is not when you were in mortal danger? I myself was once in a flood and storm which posed considerable danger, and prayer to God became very real very fast.
Consider your trials? Have they not brought you closer to God?
APPLICATION 2: Are you allowing any conditions for apostasy to arise in your life? Are you “living amongst the Canaanites?”
Have you picked up habits from the cultures around you? Habits that you are not proud of? Habits that the Lord does not approve of? The world in which we live has a tremendous impact on us. Thus it is important that we surround ourselves with those who influence us in the right direction. And this isn’t only people, it could be movies, music, etc. Surround your with the People of God; do not live spiritually amongst the Canaanites even if geographically you must live in Canaan.
APPLICATION 3: Despite broken promises, God is always faithful.
God is always faithful to His covenant promises. We are the ones who sins. God never sins against us! We, like Israel, sin again and again, but despite all of our broken promises, God is always faithful. He sends a deliverer to rescue His people from their sins. And the ultimate deliverer, the ultimate judge, is his Son Jesus Christ.
These judges in the book of Judges are “types” of Christ. Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. Each of these functions as a deliverer of God’s people. But the types do so only in a political sense. They do not deliver men from their sins. In this Jesus Christ is the our only deliverer.
None of the judges truly save Israel because in each case the people again quickly apostatize; they quickly fall away from the Lord. But Christ is the true savior. And His people never fall away from God, but are always held secure in God’s hand. In Christ, peace with God is not only regained it is assured, never to be lost. There is no cycle with Christ. His work is once and for all, and in Him we are forever forgiven.
The cycle of Judges is much like the cycle of sin in our own lives.
1. Doug [or your name] “does evil in the eyes of Yahweh,”
2. [you] are given into the hands of your enemies and cry out to Yahweh,
3. Yahweh raises up Jesus Christ
4. the “spirit of Yahweh” came upon Christ
5. Christ defeats the enemy — which is sin, death, and the devil
6. peace with God is regained.
And while in this life we repeat the cycle of our own sin, we continue to receive the promise of deliverance in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is our deliverer. He died once for our sins, but again and again forgives us when we cry out to him.