Sermon
20

Jan 2013

Failure to Thrive

Sermon audio:

Act 3 | A Land for God’s People

This sermon on “Failure to Thrive” from The Drama of Redemption was preached by Robert Greene at Redemption Hill Church on Sunday, January 20, 2013.

Sermon Text:
Judges 1:1-21:25

Sermon Notes:

Last week we looked at the Book of Joshua and saw God’s people actually going into the Land that God had promised to their ancestors. The land that their parents and their leader Moses didn’t get to go into b/c of disobedience.

We saw the transfer of leadership to Joshua and even though this was a new generation, in a new land, with a new leader. Even though things on the surface seemed to be in a state of change, underneath the surface there were bedrock foundations that remained the same: God’s Mission, God’s Word, God’s Power, and God’s Personal Presence.

This morning we come to a book that in a sense, chronicles the next 200 years of life in the land for God’s people.

I have to admit this Morning, Judges is one of the most honest and disturbing books in the Bible. We tend to group Judges in the section of the Bible called “historical books,” but the Jewish Bible has Judges as a Minor Prophet. This is important for understanding the book and feeling the thrust of the book as you read it. This book is a message to God’s people. It is sermonic in form, but the material is real historical data.

God’s people finally found themselves in a comfortable place so to speak–no longer nomads, now residents–no more manna or milk and honey. What would they think about God then?

The overall message of Judges is that:

God’s people make a mess of their lives when they take God for granted. But God relentlessly offers His grace to people who do not deserve it, seek it, or appreciate it even after they have been saved by it.

The 1st 2 chapters of Judges give us context  for the sermon he’s preaching here.

(Judges 1:1-4 ESV)

[1:1] After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” [2] The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” [3] And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. [4] Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek.

For the next 14 verses, Judah and Simeon kick some butt.

Then we get to verse 19:

[19] And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.
[21] But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
[27] Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. [28] When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
[29] And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.
[30] Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.
[31] Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, [32] so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
[33] Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.
[34] The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. [35] The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor.

God said to drive out the nations who were living in the land that He was giving them. But as we see, they failed. half-way obedience and the sins of omission

But their reasoning seems plausible doesn’t it?

  • they had chariots
  • they refused to leave (27)
  • they fought back
  • we can make them laborers so it is economically efficient to keep them

So, their assessment of their behavior seemed perfectly reasonable.

Chapter 2: God’s Assessment 

[2:1] Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, [2] and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done?

They said “the Cannanites had better weapons, more resolve, could be better off serving us”.

God said plain and simple, “you disobeyed Me.”

“We couldn’t do it God”

No, “You wouldn’t do it.”

Have you asked yourself recently if there is anything in your life which you can say “I can’t do it”  but God’s assessment may be you won’t do”?

  • Anyone you say you can’t forgive? (Have we taken for granted how much we have been forgiven?)
  • Anyone you say you can’t tell the truth to? (Does speaking the truth in love mean anything to you?)
  • Anything you say you can’t resist doing? (This is a big one in my house with my kids. But with me to if I’m honest.)

Our rationalizations are real. But in Judges 2:1 God takes us behind the excuses, behind the disobedience, to uncover a deadly forgetfulness:

“I brought you out of Egypt and led you to the land I promised.”

You seem to have forgotten who saved you…what I’ve done

“I said will never break my covenant with you”

You’ve obviously forgotten who I am. The One who promised to be your God and you His people. Who has loved you like a father.

God’s is exposing for us that like Israel, behind our disobedience is usually a failure to remember Who God Is and What He has Done.

It’s not as simple as forgetting the details. What happens is that God’s character and grace are no longer precious to us. We have forgotten them in the sense that we no longer value them appropriately.

Half hearted worship has never been good for God’s people.

God’s Response: vs. 3

“[3] So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” [4] As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.”

No surprise:

(Joshua 23:11-13 ESV)

[11] “Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. [12] For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, [13] know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you.”

Here’s the tension: God cannot tolerate and live with evil. He also cannot tolerate the loss of people he has committed Himself to. Will God give up on them? (Is he faithful?) Will he give into them? (Is he holy?)

Well, the writer is now going to let us know. In this next section of chapter 2 he unpacks how the rest of the book will unfold. This is an outline of the book of Judges.

Starts with a bit of an aside:

Joshua sent the people away, and the Israelites went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived  Joshua. They had seen all the Lord’s great works  He had done for Israel. 

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the territory of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim,  north of Mount Gaash. 10 That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. 

After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. 

11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.  They worshiped the Baals  12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the Lord,  13 for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.

So they fall into the worship of Baal.

14 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies.15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.

God allowed the nations that were against them to overtake them.

16 The Lord raised up  judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, 17 but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted  themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The Lord was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. 19 Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly  than their fathers, going after other gods to worship and bow down to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate  ways.

So, they cried out in pain and God raised up deliverers.

Chapters 3-16 are the stories.

So, the writer is letting us into the cycle of the story, comfort and prosperity has not boded well for Israel.

First off:

After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. Subtle sins of omission grew to deadly sins of commission.

They forgot who God was and what He had done. 

The saving acts of God were no longer precious or central to them. They had not learned to treasure and rejoice in what God had done. In other words, they had forgotten the “gospel” that they were saved from slavery in Egypt by the gracious, mighty acts of God.

They blended their faith.

Because God and His salvation was no longer precious to them, bring on Baal.

11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.  They worshiped the Baals  12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the Lord, 13 for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.

Pagan Worldview: There were many gods (e.g. of agriculture, business, love, music, war), each of whom had a proscribed area of influence, and none of whom demanded lordship over every single area of life. It was a “mix and match” religion in which the worshipper was sovereign, everyone had his or her own god(s), chosen or discarded on the basis of one’s interests and needs. A Canaanite could worship Baal and think noting of adding Yahweh. They simply didn’t see the exclusivity of worshipping Yahweh nor believe that He had rule over every aspect of life.

But what of God’s people?

Over time, Baal must have seemed more relevant to God’s people. Baal, the storm god, seems to be the most popular divinity among the Canaanites. They saw him as the power behind life-giving rain which is central to an agrarian society. They were now farmers, so it was an easy slide as they ‘forgot’ God.

Israel allowed the Canaanites to worship Baal near sanctuaries set up for God. In the places where the Canaanites used to worship.

[5] So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. [6] And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. (Judges 3:5-6 ESV)

They were small steps of accommodation and faith–all on the Levites watch (ch. 17). The Canaanite religion became their way of life.

Listen Redemption Hill–this is still the greatest danger for God’s people.

Your greatest danger as a follower of Christ isn’t atheism, that you’ll suddenly stop believing, but the blending of idolatry and the Gospel in your heart

As our hearts begin to accommodate the idols / lies that of our day, like our looks make us who we are or our jobs make us who we are… When in our hearts we decide that the idols of our age are more relevant to our life than Jesus and the Gospel, then we’ve been snared. Now it has bound you. It has enslaved you. You have to have it.

Thorn – it will continually make you miserable. It will rob you of joy. It can’t forgive you when you fail.

You can still maintain you’re doctrinal commitments but your life – you’re ethics – you’re passions are shaped by something altogether different than the Gospel.

God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just some.

God wanted Israel to take the entire land of Canaan, but instead they only cleared out some areas and they learned to live with idols in their midst. In other words, they neither wholly rejected God nor wholly accepted him. This half-way compromise is depicted by the book of Judges as an impossible, unstable situation. God wants all of our lives, not just part.

God tolerates no rivals.

Second: God Disciplines His People 

14 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. 15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.

Various people-groups rose up or invaded and either plundered or enslaved the Israelites.

  • ch 3 – Arameans ; the Moabites
  • ch 4 – Canaanites
  • ch 6 – Midianites
  • ch 10 – the Ammonites
  • ch 13 – Philistines

They no longer had the strength to resist. God uses the evil intent and actions of Israel’s enemies for His own ends–to bring about repentance.

Third: Their Cry for Help

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The Lord was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them.

As you read you’ll see in each of these stories after enduring oppression, “the Israelites cried out to the Lord.”

(Judges 10:10-16 ESV) after 18 years of oppression…

[10] And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” [11] And the LORD said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? [12] The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. [13] Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. [14] Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” [15] And the people of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” [16] So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.

The cycle is clear, God blesses…they sin…God disciplines…they repent. It sounds familiar doesn’t it? People who want a religion that will do nothing but affirm them will find Christianity very disappointing. Christianity is about repentance.

Luther: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

Every other religion on the earth will tell you what you need to do to make yourself right with God.

  • Christianity alone declares that you have already utterly failed.
  • Though made in the image and likeness of God you have rebelled against Him
  • Your only hope lies in acknowledging your sin and crying out to God to forgive you for Christ’s sake.

There has only been one person on the earth with no sin to repent of. He is the same one who took upon Himself the punishment that you deserve. The only only proper response to God’s saving, rescuing mercy is repentance. It is the only way that we make progress in the Christian life

How does God deliver Israel?

16 The Lord raised up  judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders,

The book is really structured around the stories of these judges…some of them you will be familiar with..Samson, Gideon, Deborah.

It’s important that when you hear judge, you don’t think long black robe behind the bench. These folk are more like delivers. God raises up imperfect people to temporarily deliver Israel out of the oppression they are under. It’s also important to note that they are massively imperfect. In fact, as the story goes on the cycle of the judges seems to get a bit worse. One intro to the OT says this, “a reluctant farmer, a prophetess, a left-handed assassin a bastard bandit, a sex addicted Nazarite and others.”

How did they respond to God’s continual grace?

17 but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted  themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The Lord was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. 19 Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly  than their fathers, going after other gods to worship and bow down to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate  ways.

Here’s the point: Sinful weak people need more than a human judge – deliverer. These delivers can only deliver the body, but not the soul. As helpful as they were, they were not enough in themselves. As you read this Book you’ll see that this repeated cycle is more of a downward spiral. As the story progresses the judges seem to get weaker and weaker and the repentance seems to get more shallow as well. Then, as the book is coming to a end, the last 5 chapters close with stories of just how far the nation has fallen and just how the sins of few can dramatically effect the entire nation and lead them to civil war. These final chapters of cowardice, unfaithfulness, idolatry, rape, and murder are the fruits of their false religion. They contain no repentance.

The story just trails off and ends with the famous verse: “in those days Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

You can say that the Book of Judges is a story about the people of God taking the land but the land ending up taking them.

We’re meant to be morally and emotionally tired by the time we finish this book. The increasing magnitude of evil and brokenness in the narrative points us to our need of a savior, not role models.

We like Israel need a deliverer. Not one who can save some of the the people from some of our battles some of the time. What they need and what we need is something far more powerful. This is exactly what God as provided for us in Christ.

This book makes it abundantly clear that we are sinful and God is merciful.

What we need is God’s mercy to us in Christ. If you are not a Christian, accept that mercy by repenting of your sins and believing in Christ.

If you are a Christian have you begun to take God’s grace for granted? Have you begun to find the idols of our day more relevant to you than the Gospel?

God’s word to you is the same…repent…all of life is repentance.

God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it nor seek it nor even appreciate it after they have been saved by it.