Category Archives: Judges

Judges 17-21: Anarchy!

Australia 2009. Alex Davie, a Gold Coast security guard is hogtied by thieves at a steel recycling yard, brutally beaten, then stabbed to death. Not content with that, the thieves then drive to his house, bash and stab his 50 yr old wife, Sue, to death, before ransacking their house for good measure.

Australia 2009. A Chinese family of five all bashed to death at Epping in a suspected home invasion.

From there, step back around 3000 years. Come to Israel. The nation called to be the people of God. The nation with no human king. Because God is their king. Or that’s the theory.

Judges chapter 8. Gideon’s got it right. The people of Israel come to him and say, “Gideon, rule over us. Be our king”. But Gideon says, no I won’t. “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” Gideon gets it. Israel is different. Because Israel’s King is God himself.

And yet as the book of Judges unfolds, Israel unravels. To a point where things are so dark it’s painful to read it. As you’ll notice.

We’re covering chapters 17 to 21. The final section. There’s a lot happening. And it’s all bad. But stand back a little and you’ll see what we’re dealing with is actually two big stories. Rather than lots of small ones. Two big stories… of how one thing leads to another. Two big stories… of how SMALL DECISIONS can snowball. In very ugly ways.

One dumb choice after another

I’ve just seen a quirky movie called Burn After Reading. All star cast – Francis McDormand, George Clooney. Brad Pitt . John Malkovich. Great actors, but they play pretty horrible, unattractive characters. And all the way through they make ONE DUMB CHOICE AFTER ANOTHER, things go from bad to worse. They just want to make their miserable lives BETTER, but at every turn, they choose the wrong option. It’s like a gruesome choose your own adventure. In the end, no one wins, people have lost their lives, and there’s nothing left. But they’re all such unlikeable characters, you don’t really mind.

It’s a lot like these miserable chapters here.

Micah’s idols – Danite’s idols 17-18

So meet Micah. Ch 17. An ordinary guy in the hill country of Ephraim. Except right from the start, alarm bells. Here’s a guy who steals from his mum. He says, Mum, that 13 kilos of silver you couldn’t find? And then you put a curse on the thief. That was me. I stole it.

So good news and bad news. Micah’s a lousy thief who’ll steal from his own mother. But the good news. She can have it back.

But more bad news… and here’s the simple decision that we’re going to see snowballing… his mum’s so pleased to get it back that she does an incredibly dumb thing. She takes a couple of kilos of the silver and says the amazing words you can see in verse 3. “Great, I’ve got my silver back. What will I do?” DECISION TIME. “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord… for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol.”

And so by verse 5, Micah has turned his house into a shrine. With an ephod. And some idols. With his mum’s silver idol in pride of place on the mantelpiece. And Micah appoints one of his boys as priest.

Until a better option turns up. A young levite from Bethlehem; and verse 12, Micah installs the levite as the priest of his private chapel. And everything’s good. Or so he thinks. I mean, how much better does it get? A house loaded with idols to worship God with. Your own personal priest.

In his mind, he’s serving Yahweh God of Israel. Verse 13, he says, “Now I know the Lord will be good to me, since this levite has become my priest.” Now I’ve got God in a box.

Which I think is exactly how pagan idolatry works. A little bit like those voodoo dolls you stick pins in. You’ve got the image of the person, you’ve got some sort of control. You’ve got the image of your petty little God… you’ve got some sort of control. And yet God has spoken. Deut 12. “Don’t make IMAGES of the LORD your God like the nations do. Don’t worship me like THEY DO.

And let me tell you, you’re not honouring the real God unless you’re listening to his word.

And the poison spreads. As in chapter 18 you’ve got the story of the tribe of Dan, still looking for their own slice of the promised land. Verse 13 they come to Micah’s house on their way to the battle. And they say, hey, that house over there. The guy’s got an ephod. He’s got household Gods. He’s got a carved image. And a carved idol.

We’re at the end of verse 14. So now… what will they do? DECISION TIME.

What they SHOULD do, according to what God said back in Deuteronomy 13, you find a place like that, you DESTROY it. Fast.

But what do they do instead? Remember, this is one dumb decision after another. They say, hey, nice idols. Hand them over. Give your idols to us. And we’ll take your priest as well.

And on they go. Until at verse 30, you see the CONSEQUENCES full blown. The tribe of Dan in all their glory. Rebuilding the city of Laish; and there, the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. And they continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh, up the road.

So what sort of place is Israel? In this portrait at the end of Judges. As the last tribe settles into the promised land… they settle into A LONG TERM COMMITMENT TO IDOLATRY.

But it gets worse.

Levite’s concubine > destruction of Benjamites

And at this point we turn to the story of ANOTHER levite. Who lives in the same hill country of Ephraim.

Chapter 19 verse 1 introduces him, along with his concubine. His “partner.” As we’d politely put it today. Except the girl’s been unfaithful to him, and she’s run back to her dad in Bethlehem. And as the story unfolds, you might get some inkling why. Why you’d leave a levite like this guy.

She’s been back with dad four months. And he finally decides it’s time to get her back. So with his servant and his two donkeys and his bunch of flowers, he’s off to the Father-in-law’s house. Who gladly welcomes him. And says, stay a while. Let’s party. And they party. The next day, he says stay a while longer. And they party again. And in the end he’s stayed so long, that when on day five he finally takes his concubine and head for home with the two donkeys and the servant, they only get a bit over half-way.

They’re coming near Jebus. Which in the future is going to become the city of Jersualem. But at this point, it isn’t. And the servant says to his master in verse 11, let’s stop here. Let’s pull in at the city of the Jebusites for the night.

What will he do? DECISION TIME. His master replies in verse 12; and it would make you laugh if it wasn’t so tragic…  he says, No, we won’t go into an alien city whose people are not Israelites. We’ll go on. To Gibeah. Much better place to spend the night!

I mean, you wouldn’t spend the night with the Jebusites. Because they’re not Israelites. And who knows what they might do to you.

And so they stop in at Gibeah. And as you did back in those days, they sit in the city square and they wait for someone to invite them home. Which nobody does. Until an old man… from the hill country of Ephraim again… who’s staying in town, comes in from the fields. And invites them home. And finally in verse 20 they’ve found a welcome. “Come with me. Only whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square”.

And although the evening begins well enough, those words may be ringing in our ears a little oddly. Whatever you do… don’t spend the night in the square.

And you soon see why. Because while the Levite and his servant and his concubine and the old guy are enjoying themselves it says in verse 22, some of the wicked men of the city surround the house. And they start pounding on the door.

And at this point you’ll be thinking, this is not the sort of passage you’d want to be teaching in a Sunday School lesson. Because they’re pounding on the door and they’re shouting to the old man, bring out the guy staying with you. So we can do all sorts of horrible things with him.

Now there are some eerie echoes here of another city. Back in Genesis chapter 19. With a story that’s almost identical. Point for point. A city called Sodom. A name that’s still synonymous with smut. And a certain type of sin. Except in Genesis 19 the sin of Sodom has such a stench to it that God blots it from the face of the earth.

And now here we are at Gibeah in Israel. Where the Levite chose to stay, rather than in the non-Israelite city of Jebus. And the same story is playing itself out. With the crowd made up of Benjamites. Israelites!

Except this time God’s nowhere to be seen. Interesting, isn’t it? Another one of those stony silences. Genesis 19; the angels step in and save the day for Lot. And God speaks judgement on Sodom. But Judges 19. God is nowhere. Saying nothing. Not a mention in the whole chapter.

More DECISIONS to be made. And it gets worse. The owner goes out and he says to the mob, look, verse 24, take my daughter. And take the guy’s concubine. Do what you like with them. Only don’t touch the man. Because that wouldn’t be very nice. Which leads to what’s got to be the most horrific account in the whole Old Testament.

As the Levite takes his concubine, verse 25, drags her to the door. And throws her to the wolves. And they abuse her through the night; and at dawn let her go. And she somehow crawls back to the house at daybreak and collapses at the door.

And meanwhile, her master has had a few more drinks and he’s gone off to bed. Gets up in the morning, packs his bags to head home, opens the door to leave, and there she is. As if he’d forgotten what happened. In fact, the way it’s worded it’s almost as if he’s about to step over her. As if he was just planning to go home without a second thought.

And it gets worse. There she is, fallen in the doorway in verse 27 with her hands tantalisingly reaching for the threshold. Almost safe. And he says to her, Get up, let’s go. But there’s no answer. And he picks her up and puts her on the donkey and goes home.

Is she dead? Is she alive? We’re not told.

When he gets home. We’re still not told whether she’s alive or dead. But here he calmly takes out a knife. And cuts up his concubine, limb by limb, verse 29, into twelve parts and sends them in parcels. To all the areas of Israel.

At which point you’re surely saying too much information. We don’t need to hear this stuff. How is this the sort of information we need to be listening to in church on a Sunday morning. And yet somehow we do. Here’s what it looks like when people do what THEY think is best.

And suddenly, verse 30, when everyone gets their special deliveries, it’s as if Israel comes to her senses. And says what’s going on? Something’s gone wrong. What can we do? It’s DECISION TIME. We have to DO something.

It could be the end of the story. But, just like the movie, it gets WORSE. As chapter 20 and 21 unfold, the mess just gets deeper and deeper.

There’s a great Mr Bean episode where he sneezes on a famous painting in an art gallery. Then spends the rest of the episode trying to clean it off. But everything he tries just makes it WORSE. He end up wiping the whole thing blank with paint stripper. Then draws it back on with pencil. What was BAD has no become A COMPLETE MESS!

Same with Israel. They’re so shocked by their little packages of concubine, and the sanitised version of the story the Levite puts around, that they’re going to get even with the Benjamites. And in chapter 20 the battle’s a disaster. Civil war. With Israelites tearing each other limb from limb.

And Israel’s dismembered… more brutally than THE GIRL EVER WAS.

She was meant to be a sign of how far Israel had fallen. But in the end she’s a picture of how much further Israel CAN FALL. Destroying each other with more enthusiasm than they EVER showed for destroying the NATIONS.

And yet when it’s over… there’s weeping and wailing. And in chapter 21 verse 2, the people go to Bethel, and they sit before God until evening; crying their eyes out. Crying out to God, why has this happened… that one tribe… is missing from Israel today. And they grieve for their brothers the Benjamites. With only 600 of their men left. And the worse thing is, the rest of Israel’s made a vow. That none of them can give their daughters to the few men of Benjamin who are left. The women of Benjamin are dead. So the line’s been extinguished for ever.

It’s decision time. Any chance of a GOOD DECISION? Unlikely!

Now notice the immense integrity of these people. These Israelites are men of their word. They’ve promised they won’t give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. But nobody said they couldn’t take someone ELSE’S daughters. Which is exactly what they do. And is apparently quite okay – by their standards.

First, they work out ONE TOWN who didn’t come along and be part of the slaughter. And they invade JABESH GILEAD (v10), kill all the men and wives, take all the young women, and give them to the Benjaminites. To replace the women THEY’VE KILLED.

In what UNIVERSE would a group of people ever think THAT’S a good idea? Answer: A universe where God is gone.

But there’s not enough women, so what do they do? Steal MORE women. Of course! These are the elders of Israel. Supposed to be the WISE and GODLY ones. Let me give you permission, if the elders at THIS church ever start making decisions as dumb as THIS, you can report us to presbytery, and tell them to sack the lot of us!

Chapter 21 verse 19… they say, Look, there’s an annual festival to the Lord as Shiloh to the north of Bethel… there’s the annual church dance on. So here’s what to do. And they instruct the Benjamites, it says in verse 20, Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. And when the girls come out and join in the dancing… rush in and seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh… and go to the land of Benjamin. Rush in. Kidnap. Self-service wives from the Shiloh supermarket.

And they do.

It all started with the abuse of a concubine… and it ends with the abuse of a whole town full of girls. But at least nobody had to break their oath. Because these Israelites… are men of honour. The irony is sickening and damning.

Israel 2000BC. Idol worshippers. Wife abusers. Rapists. And in both cases, small sins that start in the backblocks of the hill country of Ephraim … spread through whole tribes, that are rotten to the core.

And so the book of Judges finishes.

No king in Israel

So what’s gone wrong? Let me tell you, the text makes the answer very clear. In a repeated phrase that I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve skipped it up til now. But look back. Because it brings it all together.

The land with God as king hasn’t got God as king at all.

Go back to 17:6. And underline it. “In those days Israel had no king. Everyone did as he saw fit.” As Micah sets up his personal idol shrine.

And then in 18 verse 1. Underline it again. It’s like a refrain. In those days Israel had no king. Enough said. As the rot spreads to the tribe of Dan.

Down to 19:1. Word for word. In those days, Israel had no king. As we’re about to meet the Levite and his concubine.

And then finally the last words in the book. The CONCLUSION.

21:25. In those days, Israel had no king. Everyone did as he saw fit.

The so called people of God. Have got no king at all. The technical term is anarchy. An-arche. No ruler. So no rules. And so Israel is a place where all hell breaks loose.

A king for you?

I want you to take a minute to reflect. Because on a personal level it comes down to exactly the same issue. And Australia 2009 is simply made up of Australians who are doing exactly what they like. Each person living out their own little anarchy.

That’s how it works. If you’ve got no king… then you’ll do exactly whatever you feel like. As a culture. As an individual.

And the point is, the gospel calls us to submit ourselves to a king. A king crowned on a cross. A King demonstrated to be king in power by his resurrection.

When Peter was speaking to the crowd in Acts 2, he said

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, …36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ .”

For those first Christians, Jesus was the only king they were to serve. Before parents, before governments, before Caesar. Over in Acts 17 there’s a riot. And that’s what the Christians are accused of. Being traitors against Rome.

“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, …They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that THERE IS ANOTHER KING, ONE CALLED JESUS.”

The Christians THEN were counter-cultural. And we’re to be the same. Bowing our knee to the king who DESERVES our honour. Our obedience. Our LIVES.

You know the difference between a SO-CALLED Christian and a real one? Real Christians have A REAL KING. And having a king makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the world to how you live your life.

Not just a teacher. Not just a guide. Not just an example, or a mentor, or an advisor, or a counsellor. A KING.

Having a king, the starting point is you repent. And stop ruling your life yourself. You repent. And you LIVE like it.

How is it with you? Because if for you/ there really is another king, one called Jesus… then it really needs TO SHOW. Show in the way you refuse to worship anything else. In the way if you’re a Christian man you’ll treat women – who time after time fall victim to the kingless men of Israel;

You’ll see who you’re serving in the way you’ll have an integrity that’s far deeper than cheap oathmaking… and is actually a real commitment to righteousness.

And among us there’ll be A SAFETY and a hospitality and a generosity and a wisdom with one another. An other person-centredness. In a way there wasn’t in Israel. So that nobody can say of us… when you scratch the surface… there’s no king there. And everyone does what is right in his own eyes.

Don’t make OUR group of God’s people one where people can say THAT about us.

I’m ashamed of the number of times I talk to one of you about someone else here at church. And YOU DON’T KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT. You don’t know the names of people sitting on the other side of church who’ve been coming for months. It’s not good enough. If Jesus is our king, we’ve got to do BETTER than that!

Or what about people you haven’t seen for a while. Have you phoned them?  I can do it. But it’s more effective if YOU GUYS do it.

We can have all the evangelistic programs in the world, but it’s no good if the BACK DOOR to the church is wide open.

It’s what we do if we follow Jesus as king.

Wouldn’t it be great if people when they checked us out said THIS. If they turned around the lesson of Judges. Not “There’s no king there. Everyone does what’s right in his own eyes” But “There’s a king ruling in that place. Everyone does what’s right in Jesus’ eyes. They follow HIM, instead of doing what THEY reckon’s right”

Judges 13-16: Dare to be Different

It can be difficult being DIFFERENT.

If you’re like me you hate standing out. I distinctly remember getting glasses when I was about ten years old. And I hated wearing them because no one else I knew at school had them. And I’d only put them on to show my best friend behind some bushes in the playground where no one else could see me.

And then there was being DIFFERENT because Dad was a minister. I used to wish Dad had a NORMAL job like everyone else. In fact, I almost died of embarrassment when Dad would come and teach Scripture at Gosford High School. We’d meet in the teacher’s common room. Dad and about 40 or 50 high schoolers. I COULD have been a big help – setting a good example, listening, answering questions, standing up for what I knew was true.

But instead, I was more concerned about FITTING IN. And I either said NOTHING, tried to hide. Or I was BADLY behaved to show everyone I was normal. Probably one of the WORST BEHAVED in the class! Something I’m embarrassed about NOW.

It’s TOUGH to be different.

Israel – destined to be different

Which is exactly what the Israelites are finding back in the time of the Judges. They’re supposed to be different.

When God gave them the promised land, he told them NOT TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. They were to stand out from the Canaanites and the Amalekites and the Philistines who were living round them…. who all had their own idols.

God wanted the Israelites to BE SET APART… as his special people. And he told them not to make TREATIES with the other nations. Not to get MARRIED to them. And most of all. He told them, not to follow their gods.

But as we’ve seen in Judges, being DIFFERENT was just too hard. They just couldn’t resist the temptation to FIT IN. To CONFORM. To make treaties, to marry, to follow whatever gods they came across. It happened time and again. Even the judges hadn’t been able to keep them DIFFERENT.

And when we get to Samson. The LAST judge. Things in Israel have hit rock bottom. We talk about a CYCLE that’s repeated in the book. But it’s really more of a DOWNWARD SPIRAL.

And with Samson, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

You might remember the pattern the judges follow. It goes like this. Israel sins. God punishes them by sending someone to oppress them. Then Israel cries out to God for help. And then he sends a judge to rescue them. That’s the basic cycle.

But this time it’s different. One part of the cycle is missing. The Israelites don’t call out for help. Have a look at the beginning of the story in ch 13 v 1.

“Again the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivers them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”

That’s the START of the same old pattern… But in v 2… Where you expect the Israelites to cry out for help, you’re introduced to Samson’s Dad. God has to take the initiative. Raise up a judge without being asked.

The Israelites are so caught up with their idols they don’t even WANT to be saved anymore. They’ve decided living under the Philistines is better than living as God’s people. Easier to go with the flow, than fight against the current. Happier not to rock the boat, than to live obediently before God.

But God’s not going to leave the Israelites living like that. He wants the Israelites to be his SPECIAL people. DIFFERENT. And so he gives them a judge even though they don’t want one.

He gives them a judge who’s destined to be different. A judge who should be A LIVING PICTURE of what it means to be set apart for God… just like Israel itself. That’s what the angel says to his mum. When he comes to announce that she’s going to have a son. V 4 The angel says to her,

“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be A NAZIRITE, SET APART TO GOD FROM BIRTH, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

To be a Nazirite was to be DIFFERENT. It was a special vow Israelites could take. And it made them stand out. For a certain period of time. You can read about it in Numbers 6. No haircuts. No alcohol. And absolutely no contact with anything dead or unclean. It was a kind of walking picture of what all Israelites were supposed to be. Set apart to God. And it’s what Samson’s going to be. Right from birth.

At least he SHOULD be.

Denying the difference (Ch 14-15)

The tragic thing about Samson is, he’s like me when I was a kid. He doesn’t WANT to be different. Just like all the other Israelites. He wants to fit in with the Philistine’s. Settle down with them. And deny the difference.

Women

Things are bad right from the start. The first thing Samson does is to try and marry a Philistine woman… Something no ISRAELITE should do, let alone A NAZIRITE. But in Ch 14v 1. Samson goes down to Timnah and sees a young Philistine woman… And he likes what he sees… and v 2, When he returns, he says to his father and mother, “I’ve seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”

And, by way of explanation, he comes out with a phrase that’s going to resonate through these last chapters of Judges. V3. He literally says, “Get her for me because SHE SEEMS RIGHT IN MY EYES.”

Doesn’t matter that she’s a Philistine. She’s good looking. And that’s all he cares about. He’s got a real eye for the ladies, Samson. Especially Philistine ladies. Finds them irresistible.

He might be strong, but they’re his weak point. He keeps courting them all his life. When his first marriage doesn’t work out, he tries again. Look over to chapter 16 v 1 One day Samson goes to the Philistine city of Gaza, where he sees a prostitute. And again he can’t resist. He goes in to spend the night with her.

And it’s the same story in v4. Years later, he falls in love with ANOTHER woman, whose name is Delilah. He’s been a judge for 20 years.

And, as the story unfolds, it seems like he’s HAD ENOUGH. Had enough of leading Israel, had enough of being different. He can’t possibly be THAT stupid, or THAT in love. It’s like he WANTS to get caught. Wants his secret to get out. And then he can just be NORMAL. Like everyone else.

The story unfolds a bit like a James Bond movie. Beautiful woman sent to seduce the hero and get secrets out of him. The Philistine leaders offer Delilah a huge reward to find out the secret of Samson’s strength. And so she starts asking him about it.

At first he plays hard to get. Gives her the wrong answer. And when they try to capture him he gets away easily. But finally she gets fed up and puts the whole relationship on the line. In v 15 she says to him,

“How can you say I love you when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.”

And so Samson’s got to choose. Keep Delilah or keep his secret. Keep Delilah or keep the hair that makes him so different. And he makes his choice. V17. He tells Delilah everything. he says “No razor has ever been used on my head, because I’ve been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and”, literally, he says, “I’ll become weak and BE LIKE ANY OTHER MAN.” Which seems to be what he wants all along.

Samson knows what’s at stake. And he chooses Delilah. Just like he chose all the other Philistine women. He chooses to give up being set apart to God, so he can settle down LIKE ANY OTHER MAN. Being different isn’t part of his agenda. He doesn’t care about being an Israelite and he certainly doesn’t care about being a Nazirite.

Corpses

And it’s not only in his love affairs. One of the other things that made Israelites different was they weren’t supposed to touch DEAD THINGS. It made them ceremonially unclean. And Nazirites in particular took a special vow to stay away from corpses. They had to go through an 8 day cleansing ritual if they came into contact with one. But not Samson. He spends half his life surrounded by corpses. And it doesn’t worry him.

First there’s the famous lion incident. Where he kills a lion with his bare hands. That’s enough to make him unclean by itself. But in ch 14v8, some time later, when he’s on his way to marry his wife, he turns aside to look at the lion’s carcass again. And there’s a swarm of bees and some honey in it, which he scoops out with his hands and eats.

Contact with a Corpse. No worries for Samson. Especially if he’s hungry…. Or if he needs some money. In v 19 he kills thirty Philistines, and then strips their corpses to pay off his betting losses. And in chapter 15v15 he kills 1000 Philistines with a fresh jawbone from a donkey.

Just like with his love affairs. When it comes to corpses, Samson’s nothing LIKE a Nazirite. He’s not even like a normal Israelite. The way he lives, he might as well be a Philistine.

Revenge

But that’s the way Samson lives his whole life. In a huge rage. Carrying out personal revenge. Abusing his special power. Just look at the times Samson goes into battle.

Ch 14 v19. When the Philistines cheat to answer his riddle, he goes out and kills 30 of them.

Ch 15v3. When his wife’s given to another man. He says, this time I’ve got a right to get even with the Philistines; I’ll really harm them. And he goes out and burns down all their grain using the old torch tied to the fox tails trick.

Ch 15 v 7. Same again. This time because they’ve killed his wife. He says to them since you’ve acted like this I won’t stop until I get my REVENGE on you. And he attacks them viciously and slaughters many of them.

And Ch 16 v 28. Right to the end of his life. As he’s standing in the Philistine’s temple, with his eyes gone. He’s still only got one thing on his mind. He prays ‘O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and LET ME WITH ONE BLOW GET REVENGE on the Philistines for my two eyes.’

Revenge…revenge…revenge. That’s all Samson wants. He couldn’t care less about what God’s plans. Not interested in delivering the Israelites. Not even once. All he uses his strength for is to get even.

Which is just like the Philistines again. Because they’re into revenge as well. When he burns down their crops, they burn his wife. When he kills them, they cut out his eyes and make him a slave. With all his revenge, Samson’s just treating the Philistines the same way they’re treating him. There’s no DIFFERENCE.

And that’s the pattern of his whole life. Set on denying the difference. With his love affairs, his ceremonial uncleanness, his angry revenge. He could just as easily be a Philistine hero as an Israelite judge.

Instead of a picture of how to be different, Samson’s a picture of how to BE THE SAME. And it’s a tragedy. It denies everything God had planned for him.

And it leaves you wondering, with leaders like this, where’s Israel going to end up? How are they EVER going to be different? How are they EVER going to live as God’s special people?

A leader who is different

What they need, of course, is a leader who’s going to be different. A leader who’ll be set apart for God and who’ll call them to be different.

There’s a sense in which Samson represents ISRAEL. A PICTURE of Israel. Chosen by God to be DIFFERENT. Born from a barren women. Samson’s mum, just like Sarah, the mother of Israel, couldn’t have kids. And as Samson grows up, he leaves behind his calling. Just like Israel. His life a picture of what ISRAEL looks like as they run after other gods, defile themselves, living just like the nations around them.

But there’s also a sense in which Samson is a picture of the ULTIMATE leader of God’s people. Of Jesus. He’s a SHADOW in some ways. A CONTRAST in others.

While Samson DIDN’T measure up to his calling to be different. Jesus ALWAYS did. The PERFECT leader. ALWAYS followed his Father’s will.

Samson’s actions were governed by HIS appetites, rather than following God’s agenda. But Jesus was ALWAYS obedient to his Father. The night before his death, he could have EASILY have chosen another path. “Please Lord, Jesus prayed, let there be some other way. But not MY WILL, but YOURS be done!”

It’s the complete opposite of Samson.

And yet there’s also some echoes. In Samson’s DEATH, we get a fuzzy picture of the death of Jesus. The prisoner, arms spread, leaning against the pillars of the pagan god Dagon. He pulls down the whole building, dying in the process, but delivering his people.

And for all Samson’s great strength, the writer of Judges, gives us this epitaph, 16:30 “Thus he killed many more when he DIED than while he LIVED.”

And we’re reminded of the death of ANOTHER, a criminal who’s arms were spread in death, who was ridiculed and insulted, who gave his life. And yet, despite what LOOKED like defeat, achieved a salvation in his DEATH far greater than any achieved by the living. A death that paid the great cost of our forgiveness.

(pause) And it’s that obedience. That call to be DIFFERENT that Jesus calls US to, as well. “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

And with that in mind it’s interesting to have a look at what Jesus has to say in Matthew ch 5. Because he wants followers who’ll be different. Matt 5:13:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Jesus wants his followers to stand out. And in the rest of the Matthew 5 he goes on to say how. He says they won’t commit adultery. Even in their minds. They won’t murder. Even with angry thoughts. They won’t lie. They won’t be out for revenge. They’ll love their enemies. They’ll act the way Jesus himself acted when he died on the cross.

And people committed to living like that are going to be different. It’ll be obvious they’re God’s people. Not like Samson. Full of lust, murder, revenge… Acting just like everyone else. You won’t be able to miss Jesus’ followers.

How do people see US as different? As a church? DO we STAND OUT? Or do we BLEND IN? Could you mistake us for a P&F meeting, or a meeting of the Bromeliad Society? What makes THIS gathering of people different from ANY OTHER gathering around Blacktown this week?

How DO we stand out? How SHOULD we stand out?

Or what about you as AN INDIVIDUAL? If you’re a follower of Jesus, are you committed to being different? Because if you’re committed to avoiding lust, if you’re committed to not being angry with people, if you’re committed to the truth and to loving your enemies, you are going seem very strange in today’s world. Just as strange as a Nazirite back in the time of the judges.

What are you going to do next time someone cuts you off in traffic? When you’re tempted to blast them with your horn, or drive too close? Are you going to FIT IN, or are you going to be DIFFERENT?

When it comes to how you spend your money, or what you do with your time, are you willing to FIT IN? OR are you going to stand up, and follow Jesus? Make the tough decision?

We’re building up to the “Jesus all about life” campaign in a few months. And you’re going to have the opportunity to be talking to your friends about the ads. About Jesus. Inviting them to events we’re running. The EASIEST thing is going to be to SAY NOTHING. To blend in.

The HARD thing, the OBEDIENT thing, the Christ- like thing will be to SPEAK UP. To be DIFFERENT. To make a stand for Jesus.

Begin praying NOW for those chances. For courage. For opportunities. For God to be preparing the way in the people you’re going to talk to.

Will you DO it? I’m guessing Samson probably wouldn’t have. But what about you?

Judges 10-12: Collateral Damage

Today’s episode about Jephthah must rank as the mother of all foot-in-mouth stories. I’ve got some sympathy for Jepthah – I’ve been known to put my foot in my mouth on the odd occasion. I’m WORKING on it. It’s only taken about 30 years so far!

Perhaps you’ve heard a few good foot-in-mouth stories. Like the man who offered to help a large lady get down from a ladder. “Let me help. You shouldn’t be climbing a ladder in your condition. How long until you have the baby?” I’m not pregnant came the icy reply.

Or the mother of twins who was complimented by another mum on her gorgeous twins. “What beautiful boys! I have twins at home, too. What are your sons names?”

“Caleb and Austen,” the first mother replied. then added recklessly, “Don’t you just hate it when people give their twins cute sound-alike names like ‘Brandon’ and ‘Brandi’ or ‘Marlene’ and ‘Charlene’?”

The second mum frowned, but offered no response. The first mum should have recognised the signs, but continued blithely on “So . . . what are your twins’ names?”

“Jimmy and Jamie,” can the sharp reply before the second mum stomped off.

But as foot-in-mouth stories go, those ones pall into insignificance with the clanger Jephthah drops. Which we’ll get to in a moment.

But SHOOTING YOUR MOUTH OFF is a bit of a theme in today’s chapters.

It begins even before Jephthah’s introduced. The Israelites have gone astray… AGAIN. Following other gods. And God’s angry – he hands them over to the Philistines and Ammonites who oppress them for 18 years.

And listen to what the people cry. The FIRST example of recklessly shooting your mouth off. V15 of ch 10.

“We have sinned. DO WITH US WHATEVER YOU THINK BEST, but please rescue us now.”

In other words, “Sure – we deserve judgment. DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. Just save us from THIS crisis.”

And they’re words that’ll come back to bite them.

God DOES rescue them. His compassionate heart can bear their misery no longer (v16). But he DOES it using Jephthah, who visits them with tragedy and revenge, AS WELL AS salvation. God’s rescue AND his judgment all rolled into one package.

Jephthah is THE RULER THEY DESERVE.

The ruler they deserve

We’re introduced to him in Ch 11. He’s big and tough and he’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s a mighty warrior, and his Dad’s Gilead, the head of the clan. And we find out he’s got THE MOUTH to go WITH the muscles. He talks the talk as well as walking the walk.

But he’s the son of a prostitute. And so he’s also looked down on. Grows up an outcast. Then his half-brothers run him out of town, “You’ll never get any inheritance, so just disappear and make life easier for everyone!”

It seems to be a defining moment for him. He flees to the land of Tob, gathers a gang around him. Adventurers is too polite a description. It’s literally “empty men”. Worthless.

Some people might just try to get on with their life, but not Jephthah. Being put down like that EATS at him. And he wants the power and the privilege he’d missed out on. He wants to get even. To prove himself. And he’ll DO anything, and SACRIFICE anything to GET it.

Jump forward some time later. The Ammonites are invading, so the Gilead elders come crawling back to Jephthah. “We know we told you to push off. But now we NEED you. V6. Come and be our COMMANDER.

They’re offering the very thing Jephthah’s hungry for – POWER. Jephthah points out their hypocrisy

“Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”

But they’re willing to eat whatever humble pie they need to. “Come back, we’ll not only make you COMMANDER, but LEADER over us ALL.

There’s nothing like making a comeback when everyone’s written you off. In 1962, Dick Rowe, a music exec at Decca records decided NOT to sign a young band from England called the BEATLES, because he thought guitar bands were on the way out.

Of course, they proved him wrong in THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE. Going on to become the world’s BEST band ever. I wonder how many times over the next ten years he wished he could come crawling back, and apologise.

Same thing here with Jephthah. He’s making his comeback. Wants to prove all those people wrong who said he was worthless.

He makes sure he gets a firm promise from the elders. Using his WORDS to get the POWER and RECOGNITION he hungers for.

And when he comes back, he uses his WORDS before GOD, promising to do the job (v11).

Then he uses MORE words to try to convince the Ammonite king (v12). It’s a long waffly letter we won’t look at now. Perhaps he can get out of fighting AT ALL.

But in v28 we read.

28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.

Doing deals with God (11:29-40)

And it’s with that background of using WORDS TO MANIPULATE. To get what he wants. That brings us to Jephthah’s GREATEST blunder. Doing deals with God.

In v29 we’re told the Spirit of the LORD is on Jephthah. He’s God’s chosen deliverer. And he’s making progress – he’s advancing against the Ammonites.

But for some reason – He offers God a DEAL. Perhaps his nerve doesn’t hold. Doubts God’s power, or promise. Or perhaps, and this is MORE likely, his MOTIVES get in the way. The whole battle has more to do with a PERSONAL AGENDA than with DELIVERING GOD’S PEOPLE.

He’ll risk whatever he’s GOT / to get what he HASN’T got, but wants so badly. Using HIS WORDS to DO IT. It’s worked for him SO FAR. So why not NOW? V30.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

  • The tragedy is God’s GOING to give them into his hands ANYWAY. There’s no NEED for the deal.
  • The tragedy is he trades his FAMILY for a STUPID PLEDGE. Switches the price tags on what’s VALUABLE and what’s NOT.
  • The tragedy is/ that in his over-powering desire to achieve power and influence/ he clings to the WRONG things, and ends up destroying the RIGHT things.

Like thief Edward McBride, who, in 2002, was running from Tulsa police with pockets and a 30 kg duffel bag stuffed full of stolen goods. He tried to escape by swimming across the muddy Arkansas River.

He got about 40 m out when he started yelling for help. He could have easily let go of the bag, and emptied his pockets. But he didn’t.

The chasing police officers took off their shirts, shoes and belts, and jumped in after him. By the time they got there, he’d gone under. Rescue workers retrieved his body, as well as the duffel bag, about an hour later.

The foolishness of holding onto the WRONG things. And letting go of the RIGHT things.

And Jephthah does the same thing. Letting go of FAMILY to grab hold of POWER AND POSITION.

The writer passes quickly over the battle and the victory as if it’s a minor matter. Which in a sense it IS because GOD’S fighting for them. And takes up the tragic story AFTER the battle. Played out in all its horrible detail. V34.

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.

Any of you fathers out there, You all know what it’s like when you’ve been away, and you can’t wait to see your kids, and they can’t wait to see you. This scene is enough to break your HEART. A daughter comes racing out of the house, full of innocent joy and bubbly enthusiasm, wanting to share good times with her daddy.

And while OUR thoughts might go out to the daughter, the only one Jephthah can think about is himself.

35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”

He literally says, I have opened my mouth to the LORD. Opened his mouth. That’s when the problems started. The moment he OPENED his MOUTH.

It’s almost FITTING really, that Jephthah will put his foot in his mouth like that. Because his name means “He who OPENS”. Opens his mouth by NAME, opens by NATURE. It’s what he’s spent his LIFE doing. Using his MOUTH to get ahead.

But the tragedy and loss is made worse when his daughter RESPONDS. Because her graciousness and obedience and faith put her father TO SHAME.

36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. (You’ve OPENED YOUR MOUTH TO THE LORD) Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.

Which is what happens. After a period of mourning with her friends, Jephthah does the terrible deed. The deed he’d promised because he’d opened his BIG MOUTH / ONE TIME TOO OFTEN.

And even the fact he GOES THROUGH with it says something about Jephthah. His WORDS are so important to him, nothing will get in the way of them. Even though it’s directly breaking a law of God. Deut 12:31. Moses is talking about what happens when the people conquer the nations who are in the Promised Land, and how they’re not to follow their gods

Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

God had SPOKEN. To sacrifice your children was ABOMINABLE. But Jephthah wasn’t listening. Which is often the problem with people with BIG MOUTHS. They’re too busy TALKING to LISTEN.

And, although the story of Jephthah continues for another chapter, this is where we finish today.

Four Lessons:

So what do we LEARN from Jephthah? Let me suggest FOUR LESSONS.

1. Watch your mouth

One. Watch your mouth. Be careful what you say. Listen lots, talk less. There’s a good REASON God gave us TWO ears and only ONE MOUTH.

Talking can do GREAT and USEFUL things! Words can praise God, they can pray. They tell people about Jesus, they encourage, and teach and build up.

But foolish and hasty words can do GREAT DAMAGE. It’s so easy to hurt with your tongue. Aussie culture is all about taking the mickey out of people. Putting people in their place. Cutting down the tall poppy. James 3 puts it like this v4-6

Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. … 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

And you don’t need to look any further than Jephthah for how THAT’S true. Watch your mouth.

2. Don’t switch the labels

Second lesson. Don’t switch the labels. Don’t mix up what’s NOT important with what’s MOST important. Don’t hold onto WRONG THINGS so tightly, you end up losing your grip on the RIGHT THINGS.

Jephthah sacrificed his FAMILY for POWER AND INFLUENCE. If you read on into ch 13 he DOES become ruler. Number one man over all of Israel.

But he’s lost his FAMILY in the process. Not the first man to make it to the top, and then find he’s got no one left to SHARE it with.

It’s foolishness. A whole range of small decisions over years probably. That put the people you value MOST below things that don’t REALLY matter.

And it’s not just AT WORK. It could be hobbies, or sport. It could even be ministries at CHURCH. Plenty of MINISTERS have given themselves so completely to their CHURCH family, and all but abandoned their REAL family.

And the tragedy is it’s often more about a minister serving the idols of APPROVAL and ACCEPTANCE than it is about doing ministry. And so minister’s kids have grown up resenting the church, and wanting nothing to DO with it.

Don’t let that be YOU!

And if you’re YOUNG, and you can’t imagine ever DOING that. THINK AGAIN. Those older people never STARTED OUT thinking that’s where they’d end up.

Get it clear in your head NOW/ what matters most. Burn the picture of Jephthah and his daughter into your head so you never forget it.

3. Don’t make deals with God.

Third lesson we can learn from Jephthah is / DON’T MAKE DEALS WITH GOD.

God was going to bring victory through Jephthah. But Jephthah thought he had something to contribute to the deal. Truth be told/ we have NOTHING to offer God that will make us any more acceptable. Nothing that will warrant his closer attention to our prayers. Nothing that will make the slightest bit of difference. No donations, no church attendance awards, no amount of hail Marys or Our Fathers, no classified ads praising the saints. NOTHING.

It’s all about what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection. It’s what HE did that guarantees God’s open arms and open ears. Hebrews 10:19-23. Listen to the confidence and joy in these words.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

We can’t do deals with God. SO don’t try. Rejoice in the deal done FOR us by Jesus.

The Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady might have a funny name, but he got it 100% right when he wrote Rock of Ages:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

It’s seems strange for Christians to sing about being FOUL. But, rather than being BAD news/ it’s actually the GREATEST NEWS EVER. Because when you understand this/ it’s incredibly FREEING. Because you realise it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. And all about Jesus.

Don’t do deals with God. Rest on Jesus.

4. Jesus the servant king

Which brings us to the final lesson we can learn. Jephthah provides us with an example of what a king SHOULDN’T be like. So we can contrast him with the TRUE KING. Jesus the SERVANT king.

Jephthah is the black cloth we lay the sparkling diamond of Jesus on so we can see his brilliance so much better.

Jephthah was a ruler who sacrificed OTHERS for the sake of himself. To achieve HIS goals. But Jesus, the ultimate king, looks very different. He sacrifices HIMSELF for the sake of OTHERS. In Mk 10:45 Jesus says this about himself.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus, the ULTIMATE king was a SERVANT king.

And he calls us to DO THE SAME. This verse is at the end of a long section where the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. And about who’s going to sit next to Jesus in heaven. And Jesus says, “MY way isn’t the way the WORLD works”. People, like Jephthah, STRIVE for power and influence. Then they LORD it OVER people.

Then he says. Mark 10:43-45

43 NOT SO WITH YOU. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Jephthah sacrificed OTHERS for the sake of himself. Jesus sacrificed himself for the sake of OTHERS. And he says to you and to me, “If you’re coming with me, then you’re to be doing the same.”

Judges 6-8: Who’s the King?

What makes a MAN?  Perhaps you’ve seen the ad “Fully loaded man” . It’s for Campbell’s Fully Loaded. If this ad’s RIGHT, then whatever it is that makes a man comes out of a can of chunky casserole.  But can you REALLY get power and courage and manhood out of a can? What makes a man?

Sure, the ad is meant to be a PARODY. To poke fun at all those stereotypical beer ads. Or aftershave ads. But we laugh because it’s not really that different from what the media and the rest of society believe. A REAL man has to be brave and independent. He has to stand up for himself, bow to no one, show no sign of weakness, and never admit defeat.

But what does Judges say in this story of Gideon? What’s a REAL MAN? On the SURFACE, A REAL MAN like THAT is just what’s needed to rescue Israel. But that’s not what we get in Gideon – at least at the beginning.

Like when he first meets the angel. The angel calls him a MIGHTY WARRIOR. But then Gideon goes on to doubt it. (6:15)

15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “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 together.”

And that’s the key, I reckon. He’s a REAL MAN – a MIGHTY WARRIOR – because God’s WITH HIM. Everything else is irrelevant. In fact, it can be a PROBLEM if it makes a man trust HIMSELF. Which is what us men like to do. What do they say? Real men never ask directions, or read instructions!”

So what’s a real man? Here’s the definition: REAL MEN WITH REAL POWER RECOGNISE THEIR WEAKNESS, AND DO THINGS GOD’S WAY IN HIS STRENGTH.

You can see it summed up nicely at the start of Ch 7. Gideon’s assembled a mighty army. But God says it’s not about the number of spears. Ch 7 v2

2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have TOO MANY MEN for ME to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,

And then God tells Gideon to send most of them home. But we’ll get to that in a few moments. But the point is/ when it comes to fighting God’s battles/ when things are all going SMOOTHLY, when you’ve got the upper hand, when you’re in your comfort zone, it’s too easy to trust your own strength, rather than God’s.

And the problem with your own strength, Is that it’s not really that strong and trustworthy ANYWAY. No different whether it’s physical strength, or ability, or intelligence, or planning, or words, or education. They’re not really that trustworthy ANYWAY. They can’t REALLY change all that MUCH. And they can be gone in an instant.

And so God MUCH prefers to work with people who KNOW they’re weak. And who look to HIM as their strength.

The Psalmist puts it like this in Ps 33.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who FEAR HIM, on those whose HOPE is in his UNFAILING LOVE, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 IN HIM our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

The Psalmist had learned the lesson, but not Gideon. So let’s see what HE learns.

Mighty warrior? (6:12)

Ch 6 begins in a very familiar way. “Again Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for 7 years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.’

The Midianites would wait until harvest time, then swarm across the land like a bunch of teenagers descending on the kitchen before dinner. They’d take whatever they could find, return home at the end of the harvest. And leave Israel in famine.

And in v11, we see ONE such Israelite. And he gets a visitor, not from Midian, but from heaven itself. An angel comes and sits under a tree. And he’s watching young Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress.

Which isn’t the most OBVIOUS or EFFICIENT place to thresh wheat. You really need an OPEN place, where the WIND can catch the chaff, and leave the grain behind.

But there’s not much wind in the bottom of a winepress. But it IS hidden, so the Midianites can’t see you, and you stand a chance of producing enough grain to feed your family.

And as the angel watches Gideon, hiding in the bottom of a winepress, he greets him (v12), “The LORD is WITH you, MIGHTY WARRIOR!”

And Gideon can see the irony of the greeting. After all, it hardly LOOKED like God was with him. Under the oppression of the Midianites, hardly able to put bread on the table. And then there’s Gideon himself –hardly the mighty warrior, hiding in the bottom of a winepress.

But the angel can see more than what’s VISIBLE v14.

“Go in the STRENGTH YOU HAVE and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. AM I NOT SENDING YOU?”

You’ve got strength you don’t even KNOW about. I’m SENDING you.

But Gideon can’t see past his knocking knees and the top of the winepress.

15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

On the surface, he seems the LEAST likely choice to God’s rescuer. It’s nothing more than a cruel JOKE to call him a mighty warrior.

I will be with you (6:16)

But here’s God’s answer. The only strength Gideon will need.

16 The LORD answered, “I WILL BE WITH YOU, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Just think about those few words for a moment. I WILL BE WITH YOU. Is there possibly a promise that packs a greater punch than that? Isn’t that ENOUGH to see you through just about anything?

Surgery? I will be with you

Unemployment? I will be with you

Loneliness? I will be with you

Wayward children? I will be with you

Fear? I will be with you

DEATH? I will be with you

It’s a huge promise. And Gideon is taking some time to get his head around it. V17 Give me a sign it’s really YOU GOD! So he bakes the angel a nice meal, which the angel promptly touches with his staff, it bursts into flame, and the angel disappears.

Not the FIRST time God’s prepared to bolster Gideon’s confidence. But then he’s got a JOB for him to do. Gideon gets some servants together. Then pulls down his father’s altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole as well. Then he uses the stones and the firewood to sacrifice a bull. Perhaps there’s a mighty warrior in Gideon yet! Admittedly it was at NIGHT, but God didn’t tell him WHEN to do it.

And when the townspeople find out it was Gideon, and they front up to his house, his Dad shoos them away with some logic that’s hard to argue with. V31. “Let Baal take his own revenge.

If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”

Which, of course, he DOESN’T, because he’s only a lump of STONE. And Gideon gets a new nickname Jerub-Baal – “let Baal contend”. Sort of like one of those wrestling names – the ROCK, Stormbreaker, The CRUSHER.

The sort of name for a REAL MAN. But it’s only because he’s TRUSTING GOD, and doing things HIS WAY. He’s the sort of man who just might be a match for the Midianites.

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon (6:34)

And when the Midianites begin their annual shopping expedition, v33, they cross over the Jordan River, and set up camp.

And here comes Gideon v34

34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.

God’s SAID he’d be with Gideon. And that’s how it WAS. His Spirit filled him, and strengthened him, and guided him. And Gideon assembled Israelite soldiers from all over the land.

But once again, it doesn’t seem to be enough. And Gideon has to TEST God. TWICE. “Prove it”, he says, v36. “If you WILL save Israel by my hand as you’ve promised. Then PROVE it.” And next morning, the fleece is wet while the ground is dry. And then again, next morning, the fleece is dry and the ground is wet.

And yet, God doesn’t seem to MIND proving himself. Because at least Gideon recognises that without God he doesn’t stand a chance. At least at THIS stage, Gideon’s hope is COMPLETELY on God. Which is exactly where God WANTS Gideon leaning. On the solid rock. All other ground is sinking sand.

Lest Israel may boast that her own strength has saved her (7:2)

Into ch 7, and now it’s Israel’s turn. THEY have to learn to trust God alone. 32,000 men assemble. But that’s too MANY for God. V2. The words we read earlier.

You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'”

And two thirds immediately pack their bags and head home. But it’s STILL too many. So God tells Gideon to take them down to the water. When they drink, split them into two groups: those who get down on their knees and drink, and those who scoop up the water with their hand, and drink.

And when there’s only 300 scoopers, they get to stay, and the rest are sent home. It’s like Biggest Loser, or Master Chef.

300 is just the right number for GOD to save Israel. So few, they can’t POSSIBLY claim the victory as theirs.

I will give them into your hands (7:9)

Perhaps that night Gideon started to have second thoughts as he looked around the campfire at the tiny band of soldiers who were left. Because God had ONE MORE proof for him. V9. “Go and eavesdrop on the enemy soldiers, because I will give them into your hands. It won’t BE you, it’s all about ME. So stop doing your sums, counting your pennies, measuring up, or sweating bullets.”

And God’s happy to reassure US TOO, when we’re tempted to look at OUR resources, instead of him. To look at our empty wallets, or X-rays, or loneliness, or confusion, or sorrow.

“Keep your eyes on ME. It’s not about YOU. It’s MY strength, MY plans, MY victory., MY glory.”

(PAUSE) So Gideon and his servant head off. And as they wandered down the hill, this is what they saw. V12.

12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Great! Thinks Gideon. Some encouragement THIS is!

But God’s got something else in mind. They overhear one soldier telling a friend his dream about how God will give the Midianites into the hand of Gideon.

Once again, God cares enough to strengthen his servants when their faith is failing. He’s used an angel and BBQ’ed food, he’s used wet sheepskins, and DRY sheepskins. And now he uses a foreign army private and his strange dream.

The plan (v16)

And it WORKS – Gideon’s faith is strengthened. He rejoices, worships God, QUIETLY. Tiptoes up the hill, wakes up his soldiers and puts his plan into action. Confident GOD will give them victory. WHATEVER his HUMAN resources are. V16.

16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of ALL OF THEM, with torches inside.

Normally there’d be one torch and one trumpet per COMPANY. A means of signalling each other before walkie-talkies. So, with three hundred torches and trumpets, the small band would look like THOUSANDS.

Which is exactly what happened. At Gideon’s command, they all blew their trumpets, smashed their jars, filling the night with hundreds of bright fires. Then all yelled at the tops of their voices. “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”

Now, it can be quite disorienting to be woken up from a dead sleep. It happened to us the other night. Our car alarm went off for some reason at 4 am. I was dreaming about something. I stumbled up and walked into the wardrobe door. Caron actually said she included the alarm into her dream before she woke up.

And the Midian soldiers were completely disoriented TOO. V21.

21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.

It might have been GIDEON’S plan, but it was GOD who brought the victory. And it was Gideon who TRUSTED him.

Who’s the King? (8-9)

But as we move into ch 8, the tone starts to change. The Israelite soldiers chase the Midianites all the way back across the Jordan, and there’s an ambush that finishes off thousands more.

And God, who’d been the main player so far, almost disappears from view.

In fact, the only mention He gets, is on the lips of Gideon. Who SAYS God will give the foreign kings into his hand. And who SAYS that only God will rule over Israel.

But it seems to be something DIFFERENT. It seems that, rather than following GOD’s agenda, Gideon’s got a PERSONAL agenda that’s driving the chase. He wants REVENGE. And it seems like God hasn’t even been consulted.

Down in v18, he captures the kings, interrogates them and finds out that they’ve killed his brothers. Which he’d suspected all along.

And we get this interesting little interaction about what makes a MAN. Gideon commands his young son to kill the kings, perhaps to make a MAN out of him. But that just causes the kings to ridicule him. What sort of a MAN are you? Have to get your children to do your dirty work for you? V21.

“Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.'” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

But that’s not what MAKES A MAN. Not in GOD’s sight anyway. Is he becoming MORE of a man, or LESS?

Is this Gideon stepping back from trusting God’s strength? Is this Gideon taking what THE WORLD says being a man is about? What you need to be powerful and successful?

(pause) It seems to have made an impression with the ISRAELITES at least. Because they want to make him KING. Up until now, there’s been no question that God is the king. He’s the one who raises up Gideon, equips him, clothes him with his Spirit, guides him, and wins the victory with him.

But now we need to ask the question, “Who’s the king after all?”

Gideon replies (v23)

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”

That’s what he SAYS. But he sends a different message with his ACTIONS.

First up, he gets all the soldiers to chip in a gold earring. And then Gideon makes it all into a golden ephod. That’s the chest piece the high priest would wear. And he’d use it to carry the urim and thummim, something like two dice that would be used to work out God’s will.

And Gideon took it back to his town. Perhaps Gideon just wanted to know whether God was WITH him or not. Like he’d known before. But whatever the reason, it was A TRAGEDY. Because the people treated it like another god. An idol to worship. V27.

All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

God had made sure the people couldn’t take credit for their victory themselves. Sent most of the soldiers home. But instead of honouring the one who HAD won the victory, they turned to yet another lifeless powerless idol.

Gideon had gone from the humble, young farmer who DESTROYED idols and altars. To the proud, ruthless ruler who BUILDS idols.

(pause) The SECOND thing that suggests Gideon wanted to be king is down in v29. He sets himself up with lots of wives and has 70 children – just like a king. He even has a concubine, and the son he has with her he calls Abimelech. Which means MY FATHER IS KING.

And ch 9 tells the story about HIS ruthlessness in wanting the crown.

(pause) So, where do we see the REAL man? Was it EARLY Gideon who doubted himself, but trusted God? Or was it LATER Gideon, battle-hardened, brutal and ruthless. The Gideon who didn’t seem to consult God, who follow HIS agenda rather than God’s. And who, ultimately led Israel astray?

That’s the REAL man. The STRONG man of faith. Who recognises his own weakness. Who casts himself completely into God’s hands. To be used by him.

Paul put it this way in 2 Cor 12:9. God said to him.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

That’s the attitude God can use. Will that be YOURS?

For the most part, that was Gideon’s attitude. There is so much good about Gideon, yet ultimately he FAILED. Like ALL leaders of God’s people do.

Remember that, would you? Those of us who lead DO fail. We DO doubt. We do wonder whether we’ve got the ability or strength to do what God wants.

Some time, we WILL disappoint you. Don’t be surprised when we do. Pray for us that we WON’T. But don’t be surprised.

There’s only ONE leader of God’s people who will NEVER disappoint you. God’s ultimate, perfect king. The TRUE Saviour, who Gideon and all the other Judges foreshadow.

Look to HIM. He’ll never frustrate or let you down. Heb 4:14-16

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-YET WAS WITHOUT SIN. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Our confidence comes from what Jesus has done. Not us. Trust HIM – that’s what REAL MEN AND WOMEN do.

Finally Heb 12:1-3

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Judges 4-5: Is there a man in the house?

Is there a man in the house? Our family has the unfortunate habit that things always going wrong when I’m not there. The sorts of things, traditionally, a MAN looks after. Caron’s always bearing the brunt of it. And I get this hysterical phone call when I’m away somewhere and have no possible way of doing anything about it.

Caron was driving home from Terrigal at night. And part of the plastic underbody of the car fell off, and was dragging along the ground as she drove down the F3. Must have sounded like the engine was falling out.

And Caron had to deal with it herself.

Another time she was caught on the F3 when a bushfire closed the road. And she was stuck for a few hours. And a car zooming up the breakdown lane swiped her side mirror. And Caron had to deal with it herself.

Or the time there were mice crawling through the compost bin, and Caron decided that was the end of our environmentally-friendly recycling effort. Of course I was away. And Caron had to deal with it herself.

Just last week the battery died on the Corolla – you guessed it – when Caron was out on her own. And she had to deal with it herself.

Caron should have known the writing was on the wall after about three years of marriage when we moved out of our unit into our first house, with Caron heavily pregnant. And I was away on a school camp.

And Caron had to deal with it herself.

And the women in Judges 4 are in a similar position. Things are going wrong in Israel. And they want to know whether there’s a MAN in the house.

Are there any Real men? Who’ll take a stand against wrong. And put it right. Real men. Who’ll stand up and be counted when the going gets tough. Real men. Who’ll trust God. And press on.

Chapter four takes up the story after Ehud dies. After 80 years of peace. And we see the same old cycle again. Verse 1, “The Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” So the Lord sells them into the hands of Jabin, a King of Canaan, who reigns in Hazor in the North. With Sisera in command of his army.

Sisera the tough guy

Now Sisera sounds scary. A tough guy. Because he’s got 900 chariots. Not just any chariots. Iron chariots. Which in those days, is a bit like having a weapons of mass destruction. He’s Israel’s worst nightmare. And we’re told in verse 3, he’s had the upper hand over Israel for 20 years.

But here’s the cycle again; it’s got a familiar ring to it. Finally, Israel’s had enough. And so they cry to the Lord for help.

But here’s something different. Usually when Israel cries out to God he raises us a judge to lead them into battle. But notice in verse 4, there’s something unusual. Because at this point, Israel is being lead by a woman.

Here name’s Deborah, and she’s a prophetess. She sits under the Palm trees in the hills and the Israelites come to Judge Debbie with their petty disputes. Just like Judge Judy.

And verse 6, Deborah has had a word from the Lord. And she sends for Barak of Kedesh. And she says to Barak (v6).

“The Lord , the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”

She says, get the men together, and the Lord will organise the rest. And Sisera and his iron chariots will be all yours.

Now the question is, is there a man in the house? Deborah’s optimistic. She says, go get ten thousand MEN.

But the real question is, is there even ONE? Because look what Barak says. Now when Caron saw the mice in the compost bin, SHE WOULDN’T GO OUT THERE ON HER OWN. She just stood at the back door looking through the window. Apparently, because I wasn’t there to see it. And poor old BRENT had to come over. And clean up the mess.

And Barak’s the same when it comes to the battle. Verse 8, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” I’m staying here.

Barak’s refusing to be a man; and so he’s going to be disgraced. Deborah says, “I’ll come. But because you’re not going to be a man, the honour won’t be yours. For the Lord will hand Sisera over to A WOMAN.”

Sisera will come crashing down. And God’s going to DO IT. But Barak won’t get to chalk up the notch on his spear. Because the glory’s going to go to a woman instead.

And that’s the story that’s about to unfold. Barak rounds up the men of Zebulun and Naphtali. And verse 10 says that “ten thousand men followed him – and Deborah also went with him.” To hold his hand.

Now notice as we slip past verse 11 we meet Heber, the Kenite. Who’s pitched his tent by the big tree near Kedesh. Somewhere up near where Barak’s from. Totally unrelated to the story at the moment – but you’ll need him for later. So keep the tent by the great tree at the back of your mind. Here’s where the whole story’s going to come to its climax.

And the scene switches to Sisera. Who’s heard reports that Barak’s out to get him. That he’s gone up Mount Tabor.

So verse 13, over-confident bully-boy Sisera gets together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, and they’re ready for battle. Waiting in the valley of the Kishon River. While the guys from Israel are perched on their mountain waiting for the word from Deborah.

And Deborah says to Barak, v14 “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Hasn’t the Lord gone ahead of you?” And so Barak and his ten thousand men go hurling down the mountain, and verse 15 says “at Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.”

And Barak chases the chariots all the way home. And Sisera’s troops fall by the sword; ALL of them. Tough guys WITH their chariots. But not much good WITHOUT them.

But notice what v16 says. Not A MAN… is left. No MEN left, just Sisera as v17 goes on to say. He’s the commander, but he’s no MAN, as the story unfolds.

Back to the tent…

Which brings us back to the tent. By the tree. The tree we came past on the way to the battle. The tent of Heber the Kenite. And his wife Jael.

Because in spite of the fact he’s been acting so tough, Sisera is actually the original sissy. Without his 900 iron chariots, Sisera is a mummy’s boy. Which is highlighted in what happens next. He’s not the tough guy the Israelites think he is at all.

So here he is, verse 17, running scared. He’s at the flap of the tent of Jael, and she comes out to meet him; invites him in. “Come on in. Don’t be afraid.” Because she can see the fear in his eyes and hear it in his voice. You’d think it would be the other way around, wouldn’t you. A tough soldier arrives unexpectedly at the tent of a woman on her own. Who SHOULD be scared? The WOMAN!

But it’s Sisera who has to be comforted. So he comes in the tent, and Jael puts a rug over him. TWICE.

He’s thirsty. Verse 19, asks for a glass of water. And she gives him milk and cookies instead. She opens a skin of milk; gives him a drink, and covers him up. Safe. Or so he thinks.

Except you’ll be remembering what Deborah said at this point, won’t you? The God of Israel has said, the tyrant who terrorised his people is going to meet his end AT THE HAND OF A WOMAN. Because the men of Israel are such wimps.

And it’s delightfully ironic the way things play out. I love irony. Irony is when there’s A CONTRADICTION between what someone SAYS or DOES/ and what the REALITY is.

I mean, don’t you reckon it’s ironic that the head office of Otis elevators over at Mascot is only TWO STORIES HIGH? That’s ironic. Supposed to be experts in elevators, but they hardly even NEED one.

And there’s irony here. Tough guy Sisera says give me some water, and Jael makes him warm milk – like he’s a baby. Covers him up for an afternoon nap. Some tough guy!

And then Sisera says, “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” verse 20; and our English translation has missed the irony. He doesn’t say if anyone asks “Is anyone here?”. He ACTUALLY says, “If any MAN comes by and asks you, ‘Is any MAN here?’ say ‘No.’ ” If anyone comes and asks is there a man in the house… the answer’s no.

Delicious irony! Because tough guy Sisera is no tough guy at all! He’s no MAN – all the MEN were killed by Barak.

The only one left has just had his milk and cookies and tucked in for a nap.

Not to mention the fact that he’s going to be DEAD. Because as soon as he’s asleep, Jael picks up a tent peg… and picks up a hammer… and tip toes to the place where he’s lying fast asleep. And – this is the bit where you hide your eyes if it’s a movie – she lifts back the hammer and she whacks it. And drives the tent peg through his temple into the ground, and he dies.

Funny. On our Youth Group camp at Kiama there’s not too many of the girls hammering in tent pegs. But Jael can do it fine.

And so when Barak comes by, Jael calmly goes out to meet him.

“Come on in… I’ll show you the man you’re looking for.” So he goes in with here, and there he is. Sisera, pinned to the ground, dead.

And verse 23 says, on that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.

Now that’s the story. That’s the cycle completed. In the usual way you get through the book of Judges. Israel sins. God hands them over to the tribes around them. Israel repents. God saves.

Time for a Song

But now it’s time for a song. In chapter 5, you get the story all over again. As a song. The Song of Deborah.

It’s a bit like watching a Disney movie. Or a musical. You get the action. Then everyone sings, like in the Lion King, or the Sound of Music. Not sure if there’s a dance that goes with it.

But on that day, Deborah and Barak, they sing a victory song. A song that RE-TELLS the story. But more than that. It makes some key VALUE JUDGEMENTS about what’s been going on. Especially about the men of Israel. Men. Or mice. Judgements about who deserves the CHEERS. And who deserves the JEERS.

Have a listen. Hum along if you like. Verse 2.

When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves- praise the Lord !

When the men of Israel act like men, praise the Lord.

When the men of Israel act like men, watch out! Because they haven’t been acting like men for a while!

Israel’s been corrupt. Because the men of Israel have been sitting on their hands. Because nobody could be bothered taking a stand for justice. Look at verse 6.

In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased… until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.

It wasn’t safe to travel the roads. Because you’d be hijacked. And NOT A MAN AMONG THEM did anything about it. Village life was over. Israel lived in fear. And not a man among them did anything about it. Until Deborah came along. Verse 8:

When they chose new Gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.

Unfaithfulness in Israel. And nobody lifted a hand. Not a man among them.

Until now. And finally – even though Barak didn’t really want to… until NOW, they’ve finally got their act together. And so she says, good on you guys. You’ve finally done something. She says, “My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord! And at last, the people of Israel have got something to sing about. Some righteous warriors to be proud of.

Except, you’ll notice, not everybody came to the party.

And so as she celebrates the victory, Deborah’s naming names. Of the tribes who didn’t make it onto the heroes’ list.

The tribe of Ephraim came. Issachar came. Verse 15. With Deborah. And with Barak.

But in the districts of Reuben, a different story. There’s wringing of hands. There’s searching of hearts. There’s lots of, “O, sorry Deborah, we can’t make it cause we’ve got to look after the sheep.” Verse 16:

Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.

And Gilead. And Dan. And Asher. Sorry. Too busy. Looking after the ships. To take a stand for the Lord God of Israel.

Is there a man in the house? The wimps of Israel didn’t even join in. While God fought and won the battle – in a most unlikely way. The woman Jael. Verse 24. Who when the mighty Sisera comes, gives him curdled milk. Fit for a baby. And strikes him dead.

And just to confirm the idea that Sisera, the mighty opponent of Israel, the commander of 900 iron chariots… just to confirm that he was really a mummy’s boy, the final stanza… the sad little picture of the warrior’s MUM. Peering through the lattice window. Like Principal Skinner on the Simpsons who still lives with his mum. Saying why is he so late home from work? Oh, it’s because he’s choosing some nice coloured dress material to bring home.

No it’s not. It’s because he’s dead. With a stake through his head. And “so may all your enemies perish, O Lord,” says Deborah. “But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”

And so the land, says verse 31, has peace… for forty years.

Leading Men

So what are we Christians today meant to make of Judges 4 and 5?

ONE thing we can learn is that no matter how strong the enemy… it’s God who fights and wins the battle for his people. Often in most unusual ways. And we see that victory MOST in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Where God defeats sin and death. Where he wins salvation and freedom and life for us.

But there’s ANOTHER lesson. More to do with the HUMAN characters in the story. GOD FIGHTS AND WINS FOR HIS PEOPLE. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THE MEN OF ISRAEL ARE CALLED TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. And the problem is, they’d rather go fishing. And leave it to the women.

Funny, during the debate over ordaining women in the last twenty years or so, this is a passage that’s often cited. Deborah – as the classic example. It’s okay for women to be ordained. Look at Deborah. Leader of Israel.

Now without wanting to buy into the debate, will you notice the whole tone of the section, it’s not criticising Deborah. But it’s certainly CRITICISING MEN OF GOD who refuse to be what men of God should be.

And I’ve heard from women who are elders in churches around the place – often in little country churches. And they say they’d be HAPPY to step down if there were godly men willing to STEP UP. Step up and lead God’s people the way he WANTS them to.

And so, guys, I want to turn the heat up on you today. And ask you, how is it with you? Because God’s word says it’s men who should step up to the mark and be leaders in their families/ and in their church. Leaders in the COSTLY ways. In the INCONVENIENT ways. In the SACRIFICIAL and DANGEROUS ways. And not the women.

Looking at the mission field… how many men? How many women? And I’ve heard it said, the reason there are so many women on the mission field is that the men won’t go.

Same argument with women and training for full-time ministry. The men won’t do it. Why not?

I reckon there’s nothing more LIMP than wimpy Christian men. Who won’t take the initiative in anything.

Won’t take the initiative as Christian leaders in their homes.

Won’t take the initiative in RELATIONSHIPS. I hear it over and over again. Early in a relationship, because they’re too scared to commit. Or in marriage, if things get tough… refuse to take initiatives to resolve things.

Or take the initiative in FRIENDSHIPS with non-Christians. Content to let things just roll comfortably along. Never bringing Jesus into conversations, never risking difficult and challenging conversations. Because they’re not MEN ENOUGH.

And I can put myself in that category TOO.

(PAUSE) Even in small stuff, like getting the family along to church on a Sunday morning. And I know, that can probably be a battle. Is it the men who are taking the lead? Or the women?

What message do you send about how important church is/ when YOU’RE READING THE PAPER while your wife runs around getting the family ready.

On the Simpsons, it’s always Marge who wants to go to church. And Homer wants to stay home. How is it at your place? I reckon it’s so often THE WOMEN who lead the way in faithfulness. And the men tag along objecting. Holding back.

Do YOU DADS set the agenda when it comes to family devotions? To praying with your wife? To praying with your kids when you put them to bed? To encouraging them in Christian things? Offering to pay for them to go on camps? Buying them Bibles, or Bible reading notes? Are you PRO-ACTIVE in that, or RE-active?

Do the stars have to line up correctly before you’ll pull the Bible out at the dinner table? Does it take a full-scale emergency before you suggest praying with your wife?

Are you the ENGINE that PULLS/ or the TRAILER that DRAGS your family as they follow Jesus?

We’re in a mess, I reckon, if Christianity becomes a female hobby. You see it at weddings and funerals. There’s always a bunch of the tough guys. Who right up to the last minute, won’t go into the church. They’ll stand round the tree outside in their dark glasses. Because church is woman stuff.

And it’s only that way because a generation of Christian men let it go that way.

I guess I’m letting you women off the hook. Sit back and relax. Because I want to put the heat on you guys. To be what men of God should be. To look at the example of the Lord Jesus. The real man.

Be men willing to take a stand. Willing to be vulnerable. Willing to SERVE. Confident in God’s victory; when everyone else ran away. To be men and not mice.

You know, the women in this passage are great. Deborah. Jael. Nudging the men of Israel to be what they should be. Courageous, strong, faithful. I love Christian women like that. And I love being part of a church that’s got lots of women like that. And yet the thing Godly women want most… is Godly men.

The opening page of Tom Clancy’s book Red Rabbit has a quote. It says this. The only two lines on the page.

Heroes… are often the most ordinary of men.

And they are. Ordinary guys. Who take serving Jesus seriously. In every part of life. Will that be YOU?

Judges 3: The Quarterback and the Underdog

You’ve probably seen the story in countless movies. It’s the last game of the season. The state championships. Everyone’s hopes are pinned on the quarterback.

He’s the one who’s going to single-handedly win the game. He’s the golden-haired boy. Everything comes naturally for him. He’s popular, handsome, athletic, strong. A leader everyone wants to follow.

But then he gets crunched in a tackle. And he’s out of the game. And everyone lets out a sigh of resignation, throws their hands up in despair, and more or less gives up.

The coach looks down the bench at his subs. And calls on the little guy on the end. Hasn’t played a minute all season. The ultimate underdog. Has messed up, dropped the ball, failed in every respect. And now the coach wants him to win the game for the team.

He pulls on his helmet, runs out onto the field. And everyone lets out a GROAN of disappointment.

“What chance has this LAST CHOICE got of winning, if the FIRST choice couldn’t do it? Let’s just give the trophy to the opposition NOW!”

How the movie finishes depends on what the SPORT is. But it normally involves a slow motion countdown of the final ten seconds. With a last gasp shot that wins the match. And normally involves the hero winning the hand of the head cheerleader as well.

And the point is something about how the little guy can overcome great odds and succeed. And we all cheer, and are inspired to have a go ourselves.

But that’s only FICTION. Hardly EVER happens in real life.

But it DOES happen here in Judges 3.

Ch 2 introduces us to THE CYCLE that’s going to be repeated over and over again in the chapters that follow.

  1. The people turn away from God and follow idols (3:12)
  2. So God handed them over to foreign nations who ruled them (3:14)
  3. Then the people are in great distress (15)
  4. God raises up judges who SAVE them from their enemies (16)

Then the cycle begins all over again in v17. They don’t listen to the judges, but prostitute themselves to other gods etc etc.

The quarterback Othniel

And then in Ch 3, we get the first EXAMPLE of that cycle. It’s story telling at its MOST CONCISE. No flourishes, nothing fancy. Just facts and figures. And I think that’s the point. It’s the TEMPLATE, or the EXAMPLE, or the BACKDROP to the rest of the stories that come after.

Follow along with me. V7. The people did evil, forgot God and served the Baals. V8 God was angry with them and handed them over to the king of Aram for 8 years. V9 they cried out to the Lord, so step 4, God raised up a deliverer. A Saviour. OTHNIEL.

We’ve already met him before. Back in ch 1. He’s the nephew of Caleb, and he’s the quarterback. As close to Jewish royalty as you get. Way back, Caleb and Joshua were the only spies who trusted God enough to encourage the people to conquer the land the FIRST TIME.

And even NOW, more than 40 years later, he’s STILL encouraging the people to take hold of God’s promises. In ch 1 v12, he offers the hand in marriage of his daughter to the man who conquers Kiriath Sepher. And brave and gallant Othniel wins her hand by defeating the city.

He’s the quarterback, from the great family. He’s strong and brave, and noble. And it’s NO SURPRISE God raises him up to be a saviour for the people in ch 3. Look there in v10 of Ch 3.

10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

The quarterback saves the day. As you’d expect. But that’s all we get. He wins. No details. No plot. No juicy details.

Then the land has peace for 40 years until he dies.

Perhaps you’re having an OTHNIEL kind of year. When you’re feeling GOOD about things. That you’re on top of things. Things are going WELL. You’re noble, and bold and successful. You’re God’s gift to ministry. Which, in a sense, is true enough.

But remember, it’s GOD who raised up the enemy. It’s God who wanted to use him to turn his people back. It’s God who’s love and covenant faithfulness is so great for his people that he’d go to ANY LENGTHS to win them back.

And it’s God who raised up YOU. Equipped you with his Spirit. And worked through you to achieve your every success. It’s all about GOD. Don’t FORGET it!

The ultimate underdog Ehud

But in the book of Judges, there’s a DIFFERENT message we’re to learn from. It’s a message for the underdogs. For you EHUDS. Follows straight on after Othniel. So we can COMPARE the two. And there’s more detail perhaps because that’s where the focus is – on how God uses underdogs like Ehud.

Look at Judges 3 and vs 13. Same cycle as before. Israel does evil. God raises up Eglon of Moab. He pulls together Ammon and Amalek. The original AXIS OF EVIL.

Together they conquer the City of Palms. That’s another name for Jericho. The city where God won that great victory for Israel back in the book of Joshua. Making the walls fall down.

Eglon even conquers THAT. He’s got the Israelites right under his thumb. For eighteen long years (v14).

At which point Israel’s crying moves God to action. Again. So he raises up another deliverer. What they need is another quarterback like Othniel. But what they GET instead… is EHUD.

Our version says Left-handed, but it’s literally “a man with a limited or impeded or crushed right hand”. So, it’s not that he’s particularly GOOD with his LEFT hand, just that he’s particularly BAD with his RIGHT ONE. The one you carry a SWORD with, or a spear.

Which is ironic seeing he’s from the tribe of Benjamin, which MEANS “son of my right hand”, but he can’t USE it. The ultimate underdog

In the movie The Princess Bride, there’s a great scene where the hero Westley is having a duel with the champion Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya. It’s a full-on sword fight. Back and forth across the top of a cliff. And it starts to look like Westley’s getting the upper hand. But as they’re fighting back and forth, Inigo Montoya gets a smile on his face. And he says to Westley, “I know something you don’t know…. I’m not left handed.” And he switches the sword to his right hand and keeps fighting.

But instead of achieving a significant advantage, he’s met with the reply from Westley, Neither am I. And then he ALSO swaps hands. It’s a great moment. Suddenly you realize this incredible sword fight’s all been with their left hands.

But it’s not real life. In real life people who’re restricted in the use of their right hand… aren’t much good at sword fights. So Ehud’s a surprising choice. Not the kind of mighty warrior you’d expect.

And the Israelites know it. They don’t expect this man who can’t use his right hand to deliver them. They don’t raise an army and go into battle behind him. They just send him on AN ERRAND. The second half of v 15 the Israelites send him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Probably FOOD. Grain from the harvest.

But Ehud’s more handy, if you’ll excuse the pun, than the Israelites think. He might not be a great swordsman. But he’s God’s deliverer, and he’s going to deliver. In a surprising way.

He gets busy and makes his own special piece of tribute to take to King Eglon. V 16 Ehud makes a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he straps to his right thigh under his clothing.

And with his custom made sword strapped in place our unlikely deliverer sets out on his mission to Eglon king of Moab. Who, in v17, we find out is VERY FAT.

Ehud, as part of Israel’s delegation, is delivering FOOD to the very FAT Eglon. Israel goes HUNGRY, while their ENEMY gets FATTER. This is the ULTIMATE INSULT to Israel. No wonder they’re crying out to God.

Mind you, it’s not being particularly polite to Eglon either. The POLITE thing would be not to mention his weight at all. But if it had to, at least it could be subtle. He was a very BIG man maybe, or he was horizontally challenged. But Judges is blunt.

It’s highlighting Eglon’s most unattractive feature. There’s IRONY here, even HUMOUR. And it’s saying “don’t take this Eglon king of Moab too seriously. He might sound powerful, he might sound frightening. But he’s only human. He’s got a big weight problem.”

And he’s not TOO BRIGHT EITHER. Ehud’s way too quick witted for him. Makes him look like a complete fool. v 19 Ehud’s on his way home. He makes it as far as the idols near Gilgal. The border perhaps between Israel and Moab. He sends the REST of the delegation home, perhaps he’s seeing them to safety before he puts his clever plan into action. He’s going to use his WEAKNESS as a STRENGTH.

He heads back to King Eglon with his short sword strapped to his RIGHT thigh. The bodyguards miss it at the metal detectors, and he announces to the king, “I’ve got a secret message for you”

What a great line. So ambiguous. Sure, Ehud’s got a message for Eglon. But it’s not what he’s expecting. It’s a sharp two edged metal message. Ehud’s giving Eglon a hint about what’s coming.

But Eglon’s got no idea. He’s too dull to pick up anything suspicious. He plays right into Ehud’s hands. Even sends his guards away. In the second half of v 19, he says, “Quiet!” And all his attendants leave him.

Ehud runs rings around the great Eglon King of Moab. Makes him look like a gullible fool. And then gives him a very nasty end to his life. In the second half of v 20, as the king rises from his seat, Ehud reaches out his left hand, draws the sword from his right thigh and plunges it into his belly.

It’s a great moment. The powerful pagan king…. Destroyed… by a one handed man who hasn’t even raised a sweat. Completely humiliated by God’s deliverer.

And you can’t miss it. There’s a blow by blow description of exactly what happens to the sword. V 22 the handle sinks in after the blade which comes out his back. Ehud doesn’t pull the sword out and the fat closes in over it. Definitely M rated. But it leaves you in no doubt. Eglon has come to a sticky end.

This scary enemy, this powerful king who was oppressing God’s people. Ends up a laughing stock. Not only destroyed. But humiliated. Made to look a fool by God’s unlikely deliverer….

And Ehud does exactly the same thing to Eglon’s followers. Humiliates them. Destroys them. While Eglon’s lying on the floor with a sword in his gut, in v 24 his servants say “he must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.” And they wait to the point of embarrassment. Before finally opening the door and finding their lord fallen to the floor… dead. So incompetent.

It reminds me of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Shultz from Hogan’s Heroes. Running a prisoner of war camp where the prisoners are the most effective allied spies behind enemy lines.

The king’s dead. The servants are idiots. And when the rest of the Israelites join in the fight there’s no problem defeating the whole army too. v 29. They strike down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escapes.

This imposing king and his followers… Who’ve ruled Israel with an Iron fist…for 18 years. Come to a humiliating end. As scary, as invincible as they must have seemed. they’re no match for God. He defeats them easily. With a one handed man.

That’s the point of the humour. Whatever powerful, imposing forces of evil are ruling, they’re NOTHING when God is with his people.

And there’s a sense in which all God’s enemies are like Eglon. None of them stand a chance. They’re all facing humiliating defeat.

That’s what Psalm 2 says. It’s talking about the nations and the kings of the earth who oppose God. And God’s response is the same as with Eglon. Ps 2 v 4 says,

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The kings and rulers of the earth who oppose God…. aren’t more of a threat than Eglon King of Moab. They don’t stand a chance.

And PS 2 is ultimately talking about Jesus. God’s Son. It’s at the cross where God and his king, his messiah take their final stand against their enemies. It’s at the cross God scoffs at them and rebukes them in his anger.

It’s an even MORE unlikely place to find deliverance than at the hand of a one handed man. A man dying on a cross. But just like with Ehud, God wins a decisive victory at the cross. A victory that HUMILIATES his enemies and destroys them. That’s what it says in Col 2:15:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Weakness turned around by God, and turned into a strength to bring about his purposes.

That’s the way it works with Jesus. And it works that way with US TOO.

Perhaps, rather than feeling like Othniel the quarterback, you’re feeling a little more like Ehud, the ultimate underdog. You feel squashed and beaten down. Mistakes and failures and disappointments are piling up.

But God is the ultimate craftsman. He can carve something PERFECT using a blunt old bread and butter knife or a razor sharp chisel. He can use Ehuds just as well as he can use Othniels. Underdogs just as well as Quarterbacks.

In fact, God takes a particular JOY out of using the weakest and smallest and oldest and dustiest. Always has. Whether it’s hundred year old Abraham fathering children, or Gideon and his puny army of 300, or David the youngest brother in the family, or Paul, the weak and bumbling public speaker. Weak vessels, jars of clay that contain the glorious message of the all powerful, infinitely loving and wise God who sent Jesus to rescue us.

God loves to use people like that / Because it’s THOSE people who TRUST him. Who trust his PROMISES. Trust his PROVIDENCE. Trust his POWER.

Make sure that’s YOU. Whether you’re an Othniel, or an Ehud.

Judges 1:1-2:5: The Degeneration Generation

Every year our young people go to Kyckstart. The Youth Convention at Katoomba. And they have  had a GREAT time. Good friends, great music, lots of fun, clear teaching from the Bible.

And it’s easy to follow God there. Easy when there’s 2000 young Christians around you. When there’s singing. When someone tells you when to go into the hall, when to open your Bible, when to listen. God seems CLOSE.

It’s easier to be COMMITTED, than it is to COMPROMISE.

This week though, they’ve come DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN. Back to the bustle of normal life. Of friends and family. Of distractions and temptations. Of TVs and computers. And God doesn’t seem so CLOSE.

It’s easy for Bible reading to be crowded out. For prayer to become rushed. For focus to shift, attention to wander, for enthusiasm to cool.

It’s a situation most of us have been in at some stage. We’ve had a mountain top experience. God, and eternal life, seem real and strong. Taking God’s side / seems the most obvious thing in the world.

But then we move on. Perhaps we return to work, or to family, or the city, or we’re on our own. Perhaps we move from the comfort of a Christian school to a secular workplace or Uni.

And, suddenly, following God seems a lot less certain. The problems seem bigger, and the opposition seems stronger.

And we’re tempted to BLEND IN. Tempted to COMPROMISE, rather than stand out.

Starting well

That’s the situation that faced God’s people ISRAEL. We take up their story at the start of the book of JUDGES. Things have changed. The major turning point is there in the very first phrase. “After the death of Joshua”

We’re a generation into their occupation of the Promised Land. God brought them out of Egypt, with Moses as their leader. They’d wandered around in the desert for 40 years, with God doing all sorts of miraculous things. Following wherever God led.

Then Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land, and God puts Joshua in charge. And it’s Joshua’s job to lead the people into Canaan, and conquer it with God’s help. To drive out the nations. Completely remove them from the land.

And that’s what the BOOK of JOSHUA describes. The one before Judges. And, for the most part, the people STARTED fairly well. There’s the spectacular crossing of the Jordan River, where God stops the water flowing, so the people can cross over. Then there’s the incredible story of the city of Jericho. God destroys the walls, and they conquer it easily.

Plenty of other successes. Where the people do EXACTLY what God commands.

But it’s an UNFINISHED JOB. They never get round to COMPLETELY removing the other nations. The locals are still hanging around. The locals who sacrifice their children in the fire. Or commit all sorts of sexual sin. As they worship their idols like Baal and Molech.

God says, take the land. And DON’T COMPROMISE. Don’t be tempted to fool around…… no love affairs…… with the gods made of stone and wood. Don’t fall into the trap… of being overtaken themselves. By the customs and religions of the land you’re taking.

When JOSHUA was around, they started WELL. The last few paragraphs of the book of Joshua summarise how things went when HE was around. Josh 24:31

31 Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.

So how will the NEXT generation go? As the old heads die out, and new ones grow up. Kids who grow up not knowing warfare, not knowing travelling in the desert. Not seeing God miraculously providing manna for them to eat every morning without fail. Not seeing the spectacular pillar of cloud or fire leading them through.

And day to day things become much more EVERYDAY. Growing enough food to put on the table. Getting on with the neighbours. Building a life. Everyday concerns that just seem to take up too much attention to be worrying anymore about driving out the nations.

Will the new generation be one who CONTINUES to be COMMITTED? Or who CAVES IN to COMPROMISE? Will they be a generation of REGENERATION or DEGENERATION?

Judah

And now, with Joshua dead, and the new chapter begins. It’s JUDAH who take the lead. They join up with the tribe of Simeon (v3) and they start to take their bit of land.

Things look positive. Judah shows the kind of commitment God wants. Determined not to compromise. Look at v 4:

When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.

No hint of a compromise there. They completely destroy the Caananites. Like God wants them to. Even their king. Adoni Bezek. Look at what happens to him in v 6, Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big. No deals. No compromise.

But, if you’re like me, this approach sounds harsh. Cutting off someone’s thumbs and big toes. It doesn’t seem the kind of thing God would want his people to do at all. But notice something important. Adoni-Bezek isn’t being treated UNFAIRLY, he’s getting exactly what he deserves. This is JUSTICE. Even HE acknowledges it. V7. “70 kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table.”

Judah gives Adoni Bezek what he’s spent his life giving other people. Their policy of no deals and no compromises is FAIR. It’s exactly the way God WANTS it.

You see, removing the foreign nations is doing TWO THINGS. It’s not only getting rid of things that will tempt Israel away from their relationship with God. It’s also giving cruel pagans like Adoni Bezek the punishment they DESERVE.

God said it himself back in Deut 9:5 as Israel stood poised to take the land.

5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you,

The nations DESERVE it. And as Judah’s campaign goes on, they stay single-mindedly committed to God. They attack and destroy Canaanites all over their land. In verse 8 they attack Jerusalem and destroy it. Vs 9 they fight the Caananites in the hill country, in the Negev, and in the western foothills. Vs 10 they take over Hebron.

And they’re ENTHUSIASTIC about it. They’ve got characters like Othniel. Who’d fit in well with King Arthur and the knights of the round table. A real hero. In v 13 he captures a whole city to win the hand of his wife. And Acsah his wife is a bit of a hero too. She wants the land just as much as God wants to give it to her. She does everything in her power to make sure her family gets a good bit of land with a water supply.

To sum it up. Judah is a model tribe. They’re wholeheartedly devoted to their relationship with God. They want the land he’s giving them. And they destroy anything that might tempt them to fool around with idols and other religious practices.

But even with Judah, there’s a hint that things aren’t quite right. A hint that when we move to look at the other tribes, we won’t find things quite as rosy. Look down at v19.

19 The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.

Isn’t there something about that verse that just strikes you as being NOT QUITE RIGHT? That maybe things aren’t as black and white as we’d like?

This is the God who parted the Red Sea, who stopped the Jordan River, who collapsed the walls of Jericho. Are iron chariots going to stop him? Of course not!

Is this the beginning of COMPROMISE? Of Judah beginning to doubt their task? To doubt whether God’s big enough to keep his promises?

Downhill from there

There’s no commentary from the writer either way. He just STATES it. But it sets up a nagging doubt about how well Judah’s REALLY doing. That perhaps COMPROMISE is closer than COMMITMENT.

And as we move into how the OTHER tribes do. That suspicion’s confirmed. Because, the sad thing is, Judah ISN’T typical. From the commitment of Judah, it’s only DOWNHILL FROM THERE. From v21

Most of the other tribes of Israel. Manassah, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, Dan. They’re NOT committed to God like Judah. Not interested in belonging to God ALONE. When THEY move into the land they’re happy to DO DEALS. Happy to COMPROMISE.

Joseph is a classic case (v22). The tribes of Manassah and Ephraim. When they attack the city of Luz it’s deals and compromises all the way. They make an agreement with a Canaanite and it backfires. v 22.

Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, and here’s where they make the deal They say to him “Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.

They agree to treat one of the Canaanites well. And it’s a big mistake. V25. Because even though they capture the city, even though their man helps them destroy the ORIGINAL Luz, when it’s over he goes and sets up a replica city down the road. The same name, the same Canaanites. And the same pagan idols.

It’s a long way from Judah. With their “no deals, no compromise” approach. What a contrast between what happens to Adoni-Bezek. What a contrast to cutting off the big toes and thumbs of your enemy. The man from Luz goes free. The house of Joseph show they’re happy to have pagans living down the road. With their idols and wickedness so close.

And so are the OTHER tribes. None of them go to the trouble of driving out the Canaanites. We already know that Manassah and Ephraim have a taste for deals. But look in V 30:

Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labour. Nor did Asher drive out those living in their area.

And v 32 because of this, the people of Asher LIVED AMONG the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. And it’s the same story with Naphtali in v 33 Don’t drive the Canaanites out. Subject them to forced labour. And the Danites. Well the Danites CAN’T BE BOTHERED moving in to their land at all. v 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain at all.

Deals, treaties, compromises. That’s the story of most of the tribes. They’re wholeheartedly committed to God. Happy to live alongside the Canaanites and their pagan religions.

And did you notice? It’s not that they COULDN’T drive out the Canaanites. They’ve got POWER over them. V28 says when they became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into FORCED LABOUR. V30 as well, and 33 and 35.

They CAN DO what they should do. Drive them out completely. Power’s not the problem. The problem, is THEY CAN’T BE BOTHERED.

They’re not COMMITTED to being exclusive. As they move into their new land, they’re happy to have all their old boyfriends living next door. It’s a situation that’s sure to end in outright unfaithfulness. Sin’s not really that bad after all.

God’s not impressed

And God’s not impressed. He’s angry about Israel’s lack of devotion. He’s angry Israel isn’t committed to him. That they’re fooling around with the pagans. And so he calls Israel together. And he confronts them. Ch 2v1:

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant WITH YOU 2 and YOU shall not make a covenant with THE PEOPLE OF THIS LAND, but you shall BREAK down their altars.’… Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?

God had made a deal with his people. “I’ll be your God, you be my people. I’ll GIVE you the land, you just have to TAKE IT.”

That was the deal. All they had to do was BE FAITHFUL.  Their deal with GOD meant NOT doing deals with the Canaanites.

The way to NOT break their covenant with God was to BREAK DOWN the altars the false gods.

God had kept HIS side of the bargain. But the people HADN’T. They’d done deals. They’d let the Canaanites and their pagan altars stay right among them. They’d compromised. Serving God on the ONE hand. Wheeling and dealing with the pagans on THE OTHER.

But compromise with ungodliness can never work. It’s like putting one foot into the mud on each side of an electric fence. As you slowly sink down, trying to keep one foot on each side / is just asking for PAIN. You can’t HALF belong to God.

So God will teach them a lesson. He knows compromise leads to outright unfaithfulness. Because they’ve refused to drive out the Canaanites, because they’ve been half-hearted. God will REFUSE to drive them out. He’ll KEEP them there/ to DISCIPLINE his people. To prove the point. Compromise isn’t EASY, it’s DANGEROUS. He says in 2v3

“Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a SNARE TO YOU.”

How silly is it to walk for hours with a thorn in your shoe/ because you can’t be bothered to take your shoe off, and get the thorn out. Your LAZINESS will cause you a whole lot of pain.

Same thing with the people. They can’t be bothered to drive out the locals. So God’s going to show them the pain it causes.

And if you look in the second half of Judges 2 you’ll see things turn out exactly how God says. It’s a summary of the whole book of Judges. And time after time, The Canaanites are a THORN in the Israelites’ side. The Canaanites’ gods are a snare to them. Israel’s compromise becomes complete and absolute unfaithfulness.

Remember what it said at the end of Joshua? Israel served God as long as Joshua and the rest of his contemporaries lived. But have a look at how things turned out once they died. Judges 2.10.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, 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 fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger

And even when God sends judges to lead the Israelites and deliver them, they still won’t stop their adulterous relationships with other gods. v 17 “They wouldn’t even listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them.”

The Israelites don’t meet their challenge. Instead of faithfulness and commitment to God. They compromise. They fool around with the customs and religions of the Canaanites. And they fall right into the trap God was so keen for them to avoid. They completely forsake him. End up in open adultery. More committed to pagan gods than to him.

A story for us

It’s a sordid story really. The story of Israel’s unfaithfulness. But it’s a story FOR US. If you’re a Christian it’s a story YOU need to hear. Because compromise is dangerous for Christians. Flirting with the world will lead to disaster for you too.

Like my friend Julie. She was a solid Christian. Went to a Christian school. Played music at church. Involved in Youth Group. Lots of Christian friends. But she got a job offer overseas. Research and lecturing. Great career opportunity. Good pay. Of course it’d be long hours. And it’d mean leaving all her Christian friends. But they didn’t seem like big worries at the time.

And when she got there, she didn’t have the same group of Christian friends. Church was full of a bunch of strangers. And she just drifted away from church.

And there were so many nice people at work she hardly needed Christian friends. And now she’s back, but seems like she’s given her faith away. So busy with her new job and new friends it just seems irrelevant. Small compromise/ leading to complete unfaithfulness.

And it’s a story you hear so often.

There are different compromises people make. But it leads to the same thing. Perhaps it’s compromises in business dealings, or tax returns, or investments. Perhaps it’s compromises on RELATIONSHIP ISSUES. Or PRIORITIES – making SOMETHING ELSE number one instead of God. And he gradually, imperceptively sinks down our lists of what matters most. Until he’s not even there at all.

It’s SO IMPORTANT we keep meeting together. To encourage each other. NO COMPROMISES. Because it’s SO EASY to slide down the slippery slope through compromise to unfaithfulness.

No one STARTS OFF CHOOSING to give up on Jesus. It’s a slow, gradual slope. So, don’t even START.

As a Christian you’re supposed to be different. In an exclusive relationship with God. So don’t get caught up in relationship or situations where you’ll have to compromise. Where you’ll have to give up something you believe in. Where you’ll have to do something you know God wouldn’t want. It might seem like a small decision at the time. But remember Israel. It’s dangerous.

Whether it’s at work, in your relationships, with your money or with your marriage. Don’t make the mistake Israel made. Be committed to God and his way. And don’t compromise.