MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Judges 1:1 – 3:11
By the end of the Book of Joshua, the entire Promised Land had been recaptured and divided up amongst the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as the 13th tribe, the priestly tribe of Levites. Here is how things stood:
Project map of the 12 tribes of Israel
You can see that each of the 12 tribes had their allotted land. From that positive state of the resettled land, as well as the positive covenant made by the Israelite people with YHWH God just before the death of their leader Joshua, a covenant in which the Israelite people promised to worship and serve YHWH alone rather than the foreign gods and idols of the other people groups in the Canaan, the storyline of the nation of Israel changes dramatically once we come to the Book of Judges, a book in which the positive endings of the Book of Joshua are all undone. Joshua has died and the nation fallen apart. Readers naturally ask, “what happened?” and, “why the discrepancy in the resettlement stories of the Promised Land between the books of Joshua and Judges?” We will answer those two questions today, starting with the second as it is the easier one to answer: “why the discrepancy in the resettlement stories of the Promised Land between the books of Joshua and Judges?” The answer to this second question is straight-forward: the author of the Book of Joshua had written as an eyewitness of the events. His accounts were truthful and account. The author of the Book of Judges, by contrast, was not a contemporary but a historian living during the stable period when Israel had a king, presumably David of Solomon. His accounting of what happened during the time of the Judges was also truthful and accurate. The different Canaanite groups who had been defeated during Joshua’s time, arose during the time of the Judges and thus we will now answer the first question, “what happened”. YHWH, first through Moses and then through Joshua commanded the Israelites to either destroy or drive out those Canaanite groups from the land in order for them to peacefully settle there. He warned them that if they didn’t and instead compromised and allowed those groups and their customs and their worship of other gods and idols would take over the Israelite society. Their children would inter-marry and the Israelite heart and minds and devotion to YHWH only would be conflicted and weakened. That, in fact, is what happened and so the Book of Judges tells a disturbing story of the Israelites trying to regain the land but doing so while being willing to live in harmony and compromise amongst their neighbours.
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So, the Simeonites went with them. When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there. The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire. After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). (Judges 1:1-11)
Are you shocked yet? This disturbing story of the torturous cutting off of the thumbs and big toes of an enemy king, Adoni-Bezek, is disturbing to us Christians but the author of the Book of Judges was simply retelling history, without comment. He didn’t proscribe such behaviour, endorse, or approve it. He just recorded it. This type of historian is called a “descriptive historian”, rather than a “proscriptive” one. In other words, what he wrote down an accurate description of what happened, without any explanation or comment. What he wrote was not a commandment or proscription of what we should be approving of or doing. It is revealing that King Adoni-Bezek himself saw his torture as fitting and deserved, a just application of the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” system of justice that was accepted back then. We Christians do not ascribe to torture but as Adoni-Bezek himself said, “well, I cut off the thumbs and big toes of 70 others kings in the land so I have just received my just rewards.” What you need to know – spoiler alert – is that there are more disturbing stories than this one later in the Book of Judges. Consider yourself forewarned! In any case, going back to our first question, “what happened?”, the accepting of the evil practices of the Canaanites while hoping than a band-aid solution of doing the odd right thing while never addressing or fixing the actual problem of sin and false worship reminds me of the oft-told story about the owner of a potty-mouthed pet parrot, who heard of a lady who similarly had a talking parrot, except that her parrot’s language was filled with phrases such as “praise the Lord”! The man asked if he could put his potty-mouthed, swearing parrot with the godly-language parrot for a period of one week to see if his parrot to learn a new way of talking, a manner of speaking in which his parrot could learn a new way of speaking, one of praising the Lord, rather than constantly cursing. However, after one week of the two parrots being together in the same bird-cage, the result was two parrots who simultaneously cursed while praising the Lord with their words. You see, YHWH God knew what He was doing when He commanded the Israelites to drive out the other people groups from the land, and to not intermarry with them. It had nothing to do with discrimination or race but everything to do with spiritual purity, a purity which would result in lasting peace and prosperity in the land for the Israelites. When they failed to keep their covenant promises, the result was disastrous. Listen to this summary:
The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who
were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites. Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. (Judges 1:21,22)
But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko or Sidon or Ahlab or Akzib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob. The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the tribes of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond. (Judges 1:27-36)
The Israelites decided that instead of doing the hard work of fighting it would be easier to just let the other people groups remain in the land and offer them peace in exchange for work, or as the author of Judges put it, inf exchange for forced labour. Heck, that arrangement must have sounded good to the Israelites in the short term but it ended up causing them much pain and division for they lost first their integrity, second their land, third, their uniqueness as God’s people, and fourth, all the benefits and blessings that would have come thru obedience.
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 I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 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? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the Lord. (Judges 2:1-5)
That cycle of the Israelites’ covenant-making and covenant-breaking, of then feeling guilty and offering sacrifices to the Lord, only to then repeat those same sins over and over again was the pattern of life for the Israelite people throughout Judges from generation to generation.
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. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. (Judges 2:10-15)
Grimly, instead of having YHWH God fight for them as He did during their retaking of the land of the Book of Joshua, here in the Book of Judges, God turns His back on the Israelites which meant they were in continual warfare with the Canaanite groups. YHWH God did this to teach them a lesson or two. It was a divine form of “tough love”.
These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons and served their gods. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. (Judges 3:1-7)
You may recall the awful story of Esau from Genesis 25, in which he gave his birth-right as the oldest son to his younger brother Jacob, selling it for a bowl of lentil stew. A New Testament commentator on that event writes a word of warning to Christians everywhere:
“See to it that you are not godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, He was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. (Hebrews 12:16,17)
If we are complacent in accepting what God has blessed us with, and instead prefer the ways, customs, and beliefs of this world, it won’t end well for us. I’m not necessarily talking about losing our salvation but rather about losing our calling and forfeiting the blessings we can have as God’s children. Taking what seems to be the easier road does not lead to peace and blessings and pastors preaching “feel-good” sermons which tickle people’s ears may make that pastor more popular but it wouldn’t be a truthful handling of the Bible’s teachings. For believers today, the New Testament warns against “friendship with the world” (James 4:4) and against “loving the world” (1 John 2:15). Indeed, Jesus instructs us to be “in the world but not of it” (John 17:15). Besides which, the ultimate Promised Land to which all Christians should ascribe to is salvation and eternal life in heaven but getting there does not involve comfort with others. In fact, Jesus said,
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)
Too many Christians reject Jesus’ narrow way that leads to as they would rather live at peace with their neighbours. But for the Israelites doing such during the time of the Book of Judges, and as Esau experienced in selling his precious birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, making those kinds of choices leads to problems. In fact, in Matthew 25, Jesus warns his listeners that what they have can be lost if they misuse or mishandle or deride it. When the people at the time of the judges sinned and turned away from God, despair, death, and destruction were at their doorstep. However, as here is a lesson for us to understand: every time the Israelite people turned to God in their despair, He responded by sending him godly men and women known as “judges”, not judges of legal cases or law but judges who were military leaders. Those judges were chosen because they were willing to not compromise and to do the hard thing. Sometimes the other Israelites served those judges, but sometimes they did not.
Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands
of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but
they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. Therefore, the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 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.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. (Judges 2:16-23)
The first-named of the judges was Othniel, the son-in-law and nephew of good old Caleb, Joshua’s old ally. Now, back in the first chapter of the Book of Judges which we skipped past, you can read that Othniel was raised up initially to fight a local battle in the Negev Desert and defeat a Canaanite king there. But, by chapter 3 of the book, Othniel is made by God to be a “judge” over all the Israelites for a period of 40 years and God used him mightily, particularly in freeing His people after 8 years of suffering at the hands of a king of Aram, Mesopotamia.
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. 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. 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. So, the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:8-11)
Now, the name Othniel was a fitting one for that first judge because that name literally means, “the power of YHWH”, which came upon him when the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him. We will read over and over again in Judges that the judges had no power of their own, but only when the Spirit of the Lord came upon them. That is true for we Christians, as well. Let’s not ever try to do anything in our own power, but only as we are enabled by the Spirit of the Lord to act.
In closing, I am going to leave you two examples fresh in my life this week this week of Christians who decided to leave the faith. The first I will tell you about not with condemnation but with a heavy heart and sadness. This young lady we knew gradually over the past 20 years turned away from the faith and embraced the ways of this world. Now, we can understand some of it, but when she ended up in her pit of despair, she refused to pray or call out to God and instead took her own life. We don’t know ultimately about God’s great mercy for her after her suicide note in which she stated that she wanted no mention of God or Christianity at her funeral service, but what we do know is that we are heartbroken for her and for her family and friends. The second person, a middle-aged man whom we know, also after marital betrayal and divorce, decided to live for the so-called “pleasures of life” but then, when everything went wrong and he ended up in his own pit of despair, he remembered the Lord and he called out to him and, guess what, God saved and restored him, giving him a beautiful Christian lady as his new wife. This man says that he has never been happier. And his wife had a similar story of turning away from the Lord while in a bad marriage and finding herself at the bottom of a pit. But then the Lord blessed them both by giving them to each other. You see, when people cry out to the Lord when in their own pits of despair, after having previously turned their backs on Him, how does God respond? Always, with concern and grace. To the Israelites, He sent judges. To our friends, God not only sent His presence but also a godly wife and a godly husband. That is the story of the Book of Judges. The choices are always to reject God while hoping for the best and living in compromise with a bad result in the end, or turning to God and being picked out of one’s despair and finding blessing and life. More to come next Sunday. Amen.