Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Repeating Cycle of Sin in Judges

It all started with Abraham, one man called by God, and finally the promise of the great nation of Israel has been fulfilled. Led by the great General, Joshua, the wandering masses took the promised land. And during the lifetime of Joshua the kingdom is established, with the various twelve tribes in different regions and it’s good. God has established a nation, in the midst of the sinful Earth. He’s called this nation to be holy, and if they obey God and follow his commands, they will prosper and be a beacon of light to the entire world.

And so we enter a time called the period of the judges. There was no king over Israel at this time, but there were various tribes and regions in Israel, where political leaders led, who were empowered by God for service. We call these the judges. Don’t think of a court room judge when you hear of biblical judges, instead think of leaders and generals who stand for God in difficult times.

If you recall under Joshua the Israelites conquered the promised land from a people called the Canaanites, a wicked people who practiced all sorts of immorality and even child sacrifice. The Israelites were supposed to completely defeat the Canaanites, but they failed to do so. So they establish themselves in the midst of the remnants of the people of Canaan who reform into new groups, and each of these groups would be a problem for Israel in the future. It’s always best to obey God now, even if we don’t understand exactly why he wants us to do something. Just obey. But when we don’t, we see the destruction it brings in the future.

If you’ve ever read through the book of Judges, you’ll know that this period for Israel was a very tragic time, full of evil, violence, destruction and immorality. It’s a very violent and disturbing book of the Bible. And in Judges we see this repeating pattern begin to emerge, though we’ve already seen it happen under Moses and Joshua.

The pattern works something like this: First, there is a time of peace for the Israelites. They honor God, they’ve seen him work, so they realize they absolutely must follow God. They enjoy plenty, blessings and peace. And in that time they get complacent. They start to slack off. They start to drift away from God. And their children and grandchildren, having not seen the wonders of God, don’t have any regard for God and turn away to false gods.

As it says in Judges 2:10-11 "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.”

The cycle changes to stage 2, sin. Sin takes over in the nation. False gods are worshiped. Sexual immorality takes over. Pride and ego take over. Chaos is the result. In this chaos, we move to stage 3, oppression, God judges the nation for their evil, and raises up an enemy against them. Whether it’s Philistines, or Midianites, or Ammonites, these foreign nations invade Israel, steal their crops, destroy their cities, and oppress them. 

Stage 4 begins, over time under this oppression and war, the Israelites realize, we’ve sinned against God, that’s why all this evil is happening. They regret that they failed to honor God. They realize the high price of their sin. And so they repent of their sins, crying out to God for help and deliverance. Then Stage 5 begins, God hears their cries for help, and he sees that they’ve repented and have begun to honor Him again. So God raises up a “judge” and through this judge, God brings deliverance for Israel from their enemies.

Often times while that Judge remains alive, Israel continues to honor God. But then as soon as the judge dies, they begin to get complacent, and begin to turn away from God. Then the cycle repeats, they fall back into sin, and come under oppression, and then they cry out to God for help, and God raises up another judge to help them.

And through all this God is trying to teach Israel, as he often tries to teach us in our own lives, to trust in God, and continue to honor God in the hard times and yes, even in the good times when things are easy.

God says in Judges 2:22 “I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 

And God often does the same thing in our lives, he uses people and circumstances to repeatedly test us, to see if we are learning what he is teaching us, and to see if we will honor Him or turn away from Him and go into sin.

Honestly, in our nation today, we can see this same cycle taking over once again sadly. Our founding fathers founded a nation that honored God, and for many years the nation continued to honor God, but in the 20th century, our nation began to rebel and turn against God, and embrace secular ideologies, and now today in 2021, we live in the terrible results of those broken secular ideologies. Our nation is living in every sort of sin, and doesn’t honor God. So its quite chilling, that we see this cycle from judges repeat itself even to our modern day.

In any case now we turn to consider the lives of some of these judges that God raised up to help Israel.

The first three judges we have are Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah.

The saga of Othneil says this, from Judges 3: 7-11 “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on 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.”

In general Othniel does very well, through the Spirit of God.

Next we hear of Ehud. The Israelites do evil in the eyes of the lord after Othneil dies. And Eglon king of Moab invades Israel, taking over the city of palms it says, which refers to Jericho.

Judges 3:15-26 “Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. 19 But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”

The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.

20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.

26 While they waited, Ehud got away.”

So Ehud, after assassinating the king, gathers the armies of Israel, and attacks and they win the battle defeating 10,000 enemy troops. And they retake Jericho.

After this we hear of another judge named Shamgar, apparently he defeated 600 philistines in battle. But we only get one verse about him. Very brief mention.

Then we see the next judge raised up, Deborah.

Once again we see Israel turning back to evil, and God raises up Jabin king of Canaan against Israel. And they fall to Jabin and end up under his cruel reign for 20 years. During this time Deborah is already a judge over Israel, she is a prophet, and helps settle arguments between people in Israel. The Lord speaks to Deborah, and she calls for a guy named Barak, and tells him to raise up an army of 10,000 to attack Jabin and his forces.

From Judges 4:8-10 “Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.”

So they gather their forces at Mount Tabor and prepare for battle.

Judges 4:14-15 says, “14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.”

So Sisera, the enemy general flees from the area, and ends up in a tent with Israelites he thought were his allies, but the wife of Heber named Jael, pretends to help hide Sisera, but as he sleeps, she drives a tent stake through his head and he dies.

So we see two important events, led by women, which shows us how God values women, just as men, to do the work of God. If anyone ever says to you, the Bible is sexist, don’t listen to them. It’s a lie. God uses women like Deborah and Jael, Ruth and Naomi, as well as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, and so many others to accomplish his victories.

Then we turn to the historical account of Gideon and how God’s Spirit worked through him to deliver Israel from the Midianites, in Judges chapter 6. But you’ll see, that after the first four judges, we see more and more problems, and the judges get worse and worse, obeying God less and less, as we see this cycle of sin and repentance deteriorating.

That cycle will also deteriorate in our own lives, if we live in that cycle of sin, repent, deliverance, idleness and so on. It will keep getting worse and worse, in a progression, going lower and lower, until we hit a sort of bottom of destruction. Be careful of that. But often times it almost has to happen that way, because at rock bottom our ego is so completely flattened that we’re humbled completely, and finally willing to turn to God completely in true repentance. We’re a stubborn people, and it often takes a brutal rock bottom experience to humble us enough to make a big change.

In any case, Gideon, is used by God, found cowering in an underground cellar, trying to hide his harvest from the Midianites who keep raiding their country during harvest time to steal their crops. Isn’t that nasty? All year you work those fields, then when you finally try to harvest they come steal it.

But once again Israel was doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. In fact Gideon’s own dad has an altar to Baal set up in his front yard. Gideon cuts it down in the night, and obeys God. The towns people want to kill him, but actually end up turning to Him, because God’s Spirit is with Gideon.

So Gideon gathers the forces of Israel, into a massive army of 32,000 and I know we went through this recently at Dinner church so I’m going to move quickly through it, but God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. And with that he would need to attack a force of Midianites allied with other eastern forces in the area numbering about 135,000 soldiers.

So God had the 300 men bang on pots, blow trumpets and smash pottery and yell, at night, to scare the Midianite army. And so it would seem a massive force was moving against them. But God used that obedience of Gideon and his soldiers, to destroy the entire army, God drove them mad and they were destroyed by each other and Gideon chased after the remaining 15,000 who survived. And victory came.

But some of the villages along the route that Gideon was pursuing the remaining 15,000 refused to provide provisions to Gideon’s troops. So later Gideon would come back and destroy those cities.

Then we see after the battle the people try to name Gideon as their ruler, but he refuses and says God himself must be their ruler. But then Gideon makes a terrible mistake, he asks for jewelry from the people. And he took the jewelry and melted it into a statue of a false god and worshiped it. So all the people went and worshiped at the false idol.

Never-the-less the people of Israel had peace for 40 years. At least during Gideon’s lifetime. But after he passed away, the peace once again turned to complacency. And they turned away from God once again.

During this time a man named Abimelek convinced the people to make him leader over Israel. But he was wicked, and ended up in conflict with a part of Israel called Shechem, who plotted against him. Maybe that’s why our modern idea of a “scheme” comes from. Who knows? Anyway, Abimelek eventually attacks these people but is killed in battle at a high tower in one of their villages, when a woman drops a rock on his head. Simply again and again we see in Judges how when the people turn away from God, total chaos takes over, and people are confused, and in fighting takes place and it’s just a big mess. Sound familiar at all? Yeah, to me too.

So we see another judge rise up after Abimelek this failed leader, named Jephthah and his struggle against the ammonites. So the ammonites, along with numerous other nations now, are mustering to attack Israel once again, though they’ve been oppressing them for 18 years already. And Israel responds by gathering their forces at Mizpah.

Jephthah we hear about is this guy who was born of his father and a prostitute. His father marries another woman later and has children with her and those children drive Jephthah out because they see him as illegitimate.

So Jephthah is the sort of cast out, outsider. He becomes a warrior out in the wilderness, and a gang of troublemakers gathers around him.

So now, with the Ammonites poised to invade Israel. The people of the city come to Jephthah, knowing he’s a great warrior and ask him to lead their army. And he agrees, since they commit to making him their leader if he is successful. Jephthah sends a letter to the king of the ammonites asking why they want to attack and Jephthah tries to explain the truth of the situation to the ammonites but they refuse.

So it says in Judges 11:29-31: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 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.”

So we see the reason Jephthah like all the other judges is successful is because the Spirit of God is with them. But then Jephthah makes this strange vow before God to sacrifice when he gets home whatever comes out his front door when he returns from battle.

Jephthah leads Israel to victory and they conquer twenty towns, and defeat Ammon. Then as Jephthah returns home, his young daughter comes out of the house first to greet him. So he has to kill his daughter as a sacrifice to the Lord. And it’s horrible. That’s why we hear in scripture how important it is to not make vows to the Lord unless we can keep them. And in the new testament were told in the sermon on the mount, don’t make vows unnecessarily, just let your yes be yes and your no be no.

So once again, we see a judge falling short.

Then, we see the struggle of Samson against the philistines.

Samson is perhaps the most flawed of the judges. He’s completely obsessed with women, with sex, and with marriage. Have you ever known someone like this? It’s almost like they have an addiction to sex, or an addiction to relationships. They always have to be with someone, they can never be single. Samson is raised up under a Nazarite vow. Very interesting, he’s not allowed to cut his hair, or drink wine or eat anything unclean. And this is the standard by which God will hold him to be able to be a judge and achieve victory. And God calls each of us to a similar standard. If we want to be his heroes, we have to live clean and free from sin, as holy warriors of Christ.

Samson does well for a while, defeating and striking down many Philistines. But his weakness for relationships gets to him. He is betrayed by his philistine wife Delilah, and he is captured and tortured by the Philistines.

They pull him out and gouge out his eyes and tie him between two pillars, to laugh at him at a party they are having. But God restores Samsons strength one last time, as he prays to God, and Samson brings down those pillars and destroys many philistines as the structure crashes down on them. A sad ending to a deeply flawed judge.

After these judges and their increasing failures to lead Israel well, we see some truly horrible events that conclude the time of the judges. So Israel is really reaching a time of rock bottom, when all out chaos is taking over.

First we see a terrible incident, of Micah and his false idol. Micah this guy sets up a false idol, puts together some household gods, little wood idols to worship, and these 600 men called Danites go there, and find the idols and take them, along with a Levite who had become Micah’s personal little high priest of his false gods, and after doing this these Danites destroy an entire city called Laish, from the false words of this false priest, who said to go do it, and it’s just a big mess and the Danites take the city kill everyone and begin worshiping the false gods from Micah’s collection once they rename the city Dan.

Then we see a truly horrible saga of sexual abuse, and death. And it leads to Israel’s first civil war. This is the bottom point, in my view. Total anarchy.

So we see a Levite, so one of the priestly class of Israel, and he’s involved with this concubine. But she is unfaithful to him and goes back to her family. The Levite pursues her, and wants to bring her back to live with him and she agrees. They spend several nights at her parents house, then they finally leave, but leave at night. And they are traveling back to his home. It’s late at night, and they consider stopping at a town but it’s not an Israelite town, so they don’t. But then they do stop at Gibeah, which is an Israelite town.

Now I’ll warn you this is very graphic, and terrible. But I do want you to hear it today. It says this in Judges 19:20-30, “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.

29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!”

The result of this horrible event was that Israel gathered a force against the benjamites, the people from this region where this happened, and they attacked and completely destroyed this tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel. But some survived, and they went and gathered foreign wives for them, because they’d declared an oath not to let them marry any people of the 12 tribes. Like I said, big mess.

This is where sin leads. It may seem like no big deal at the time. It may seem like only a minor compromise. But we all need to look ahead at where it will lead. It leads into the deepest darkness. Into the most evil places. This historical account is reminiscent of another account from Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s how bad Israel had turned away from God. They’d become no different than Sodom and Gomorrah, cities so evil that they judged and destroyed by God.

It’s much the same in the United States sadly. Were not too far away from people being ambushed in their houses and abused and murdered. We’re not as far away from that as you might think. Think about all the things you see in the country today, that 20 or 30 or 40 years ago seemed absolutely impossible. Endless.

So that’s our look at the time of the judges. We see God at work, but we also see a great deal of sin and destruction. Israel can’t seem to quite stay with God as generations pass one after another. The cycle of sin repeats over and over throughout this book. And it’s a good reminder to us today: Don’t fall into the cycle of constant sin. Remember where God has delivered you from. Always remember, and don’t fall away. Don’t go back into the wilderness, go into the promised land. And be careful to obey the Lord in obedient faith as you walk with Jesus.

But this is also a reminder that God works through average, everyday flawed people. He worked through Gideon even though he was afraid, and hiding. Even though he failed later, God still worked. Same thing with Jephthah, despite his mistaken vow. Same thing with Samson, God gave him mercy to have one final victory over the philistines. God works through broken vessels. You and me. And that’s beautiful. Amen.