Time of the Judges – Part 1
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005|
|Dr. Easley explains the situation in Israel at the time when the judges ruled in Israel. In many ways, that time reminds us of the way the world is today.|
Time of the Judges – Part 1
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
- Michael Easley: Did you get one of these little cards when you came in? If you did not, there’s a big stack of them. If you want to take a nap this weekend it’s all on here. You can just take a nap and all the content I’m going to cover is right on that little card. But I put this together for you to give a high view of the book of Judges because it is a book that probably you’ve not heard taught in a Sunday School or a pulpit in very long time, if ever and so it’s a book that I’ve come to love over the years and taught through it several times and hope to introduce it to you tonight.
- It’s a privilege to be at The Cove. I’m always humbled to be invited back here. This is one of the most luxurious environments to come for a retreat. It’s Eden. It’s hard to get here. We all understand that, but it is a wonderful tribute to the Graham legacy and the vision that they had to build the Training Center, so I’m glad you’re here and, whether it’s 40 or 400, it’s who is here. And Prof Hendricks taught us years ago, it doesn’t matter if 10 show up or 1,000 show. It’s who God has there, and I’m humbled that you came and I hope to encourage you while we’re here.
- Before we begin I just thought we would do something a little out of the box. Tell me, as you think about the country, and we’re not going to talk about voting right or left or you know, good or evil. Just talk to me. What’s your concern? As you look at the future, not only the upcoming election, but what are some concerns? Just talk to me. Speak loud quickly.
- Audience: Our grandchildren.
- Easley: Our grandchildren. Who isn’t worried if you’ve got grand kids? What else? Afraid there will never be another election if something happens on this one. That’s a chilling thought. Someone else. Yes. Disavowing our Christian heritage, the concept of a “Judeo-Christian culture,” what that means and all the ramifications. What else? Watering down the Word, from pulpits, from ministries, from authors. What else? The growth of the church, spiritually, numerically, both. What else?
- Audience: Losing our freedoms.
- Easley: Losing our freedoms. What else are we concerned about? Abortion, homosexuality. We talk about moral relativism a lot, don’t we? Some of you are on the Hill, have been on the Hill. Some of you are in that world or have been or have an interest in that, and the notion of moral relativism: killing a spider is the same as killing a child. Moral relativism. And that’s where it’s a reduction. We’ve gotten to that in some ways, haven’t we? What else?
- Audience: God’s not even in the conversation.
- Easley: God’s not even in the conversation, and if He is in the conversation it’s euphemistically, it’s little “g,” it’s all religions. It’s all paths lead to God and we’ll talk a little bit about that this weekend. What else? Compromise. The art of, the political environment, compromise and yeah, both lose. A 50/50 marriage means both lose 50%. A 100%, a 100% marriage works, but it’s not what the world teaches. What else are you worried about when you think about politics and our government and our future and Christianity?
- Audience: What used to be a truth is a lie.
- Easley: What used to be a truth is a lie. Scripture says something about that, doesn’t it? Yes, what was bad we call good, yeah, something along those lines, yeah. Others. Government controlling the church. I was with a radiologist two weeks ago. He’s been in private practice for almost 30 years in another state and he was telling me, “Michael, when I began radiology it was the crème de la crème. You have had be sort of an egghead to get in that in his time and day.” And he had a great practice, a great a life as a radiologist. He said, “I spend about 30% of my staff and my time fighting government regulations on what I can and can’t do as a radiologist.” And he’s 59 and completely frustrated with being a physician in a small town in Arkansas and considering hanging it up because government telling him what he can and can’t do as a physician.
What else? Education, oy vey! A friend talked to a friend in Chicago today on the phone and his wife is a Chicago public school teacher. You know, they’ve made them go and protest. She had to sign in at 6:30 a.m. in Chicago at her union rep and she had to walk the line from 6:00 to noon every day. They required them to do that. Didn’t make the Chicago Tribune, did it?
What else? No absolute truth; truth as you perceive it in so far as it doesn’t affect me. Yeah, right and left are hard definitions and depending on your constituency and whom you like and whom you dislike, all those things are jambalaya aren’t they? Are you familiar with William Federer? Some of you. Federer does an email; you can sign up and he will send out a daily email. And if you get daily emails you’re like me, you read one in 10. But any way, Federer’s done a book called Americas God and Country, and not what you’re going to read in the revisionists’ textbooks of the day in high school and college.
February 8, 1797, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John, after he became the second president of the United States: “You have this day to declare yourself head of a nation. And now, O Lord, my God, Thou hast made Thy servant ruler over Thy people. Give unto him an understanding heart that he may know how to go out and to come in before this great people, that he may discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this Thy so great of people? Were the words of the royal sovereign not much less applicable to him who is interested in the chief majestry of a nation? Though he wear not a crown, nor robes of royalty, though personally absent, my petitions to heaven are that the things that make for peace may not be hidden from your eyes, that you may be enabled to discharge them with honor to yourself, with justice and impartiality to your country, with satisfaction to this great people, shall be the daily prayer of your Abigail Adams.”
Three years later they move into the White House. Have you seen the Hanks, Spielberg rendering of McCullough’s book John Adams? If you have not, you must now. You must go rent the DVD’s from Netflix or buy them and watch them and you must watch them once and then go back and watch them. They have the closed-captioned thing when they have different translations. You go in the closed-caption setting of your DVD and there’s a thing called a pop up, and so when they’re going through the story about the Stamp Act a little pop up comes up on your screen and talks about the Stamp Act and you can pause it and read and you will learn three times the history the average American knows if you just watch it. But you’ve got to watch it twice, unfortunately, because you can’t keep up with the storyline and read the pop ups at the same time unless you’re a lot better than me.
So the, whatever it is, the nine hour miniseries becomes 18 hours. But, you know, you’ve got time; you watch one every other night, you’ll be through it in no time at all. But I love the depiction of, some of us have lived in that area of the White House, when they’re building it and when the Adams move in it. It was unbelievable how they lived in this house, but they move in it three years later, November 2, 1800: “I pray heaven to bestow the best blessing on this house,” he writes “and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof?” I don’t think his prayer was answered.
What do we do in a time and a culture that has seem to have lost its mind when it comes to sin, politics and government? And how do we as believers in Jesus Christ live? You’ve raised many questions.
How many of you remember newsreels? Okay, when you go to the movie theater and you watched a newsreel, that newsreel was six weeks, eight weeks or older before the American got to see what was happening in World War II. When Ted Turner in 1980 created Cable News Network—it’s been other words used to describe CNN, but a constant news network, and others I won’t repeat—it was a 24/7 coverage and it was considered, it was impossible. This will never work. And now of course it is a cliché; 24/7 news coverage, satellite feed, almost real time, imbedded reporters. We are seeing what is happening the moment it happens.
And the continuous news networks, all the cable news networks that have come, social media now, those who are under 30 do not watch any of the television stations you or I watch. When I was a boy there were three channels and some fuzzy ones on UHF and they went off at 10:00 at night. And now it never stops and you have the Twitter, the social media, the blogosphere, the Internet. Anyone with a good server, some clever content, some positioning on the Internet can know how to market themselves to be read and trafficked. And you have a generation that understands cassette tapes; let’s talk about us, and a generation that uses devices like this exclusively and they wouldn’t know what to do with a cassette tape if they had one. If you understand that concept, you understand what we’re up against as a culture, as believers in Jesus Christ, who live in a context who are listening to cassette tapes.
And we have a culture that doesn’t listen to the radio, that doesn’t watch the news, that doesn’t care about some of the aforementioned reporters, and how do we then live? Some of you remember Francis Schaffer. I got to hear him. Did you guys hear him when he spoke at Perkins? He spoke at Perkins and he and C. Everett Koop got this; spoke at Perkins and they launched the “How Shall We Then Live?” 1976-7. We drove from Nacogdoches, Texas, to go see it live and got the book, hard-backed book, How Shall We Then Live? Any of you read How Shall We Then Live? And that book was a tectonic change in my view. It was over 50 years ago. That’s hard to imagine. No, it can’t be that long.
From the New Testament perspective, to give us some bearing before we jump into Judges, 1 Timothy 2, if you have your Bible, 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and for all who are in authority, in order that we may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
“I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in godliness and in dignity.” We have a lot of principles from this passage. One, we’re to pray for the salvation of those in authority. It is something I am guilty of not doing. I pray for their removal. I pray for good godly men and women to come up in the ranks of politics and social industry and policy writing, but I confess, I don’t pray for their salvation often enough. I have prayed that they would surround themselves with good men and women of integrity, of morality, of maybe a few Christians; what a novel idea, who would be their counsel and have their ear. But do we pray for their salvation?
Rome is burned in 64 AD. The empire is disintegrating because of Nero’s perverse, wicked power megalomania. In 70 AD Titus will go in and destroy Jerusalem. Jerusalem, never forget Jerusalem in Christ’s time lived under a foreign occupation. A Roman ruler, Tiberius Caesar, was over Jerusalem. We just went through in our church last weekend the passage on “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” probably the most political sermon I’ve ever preached in my life in the pulpit. If you’re so interested you can go listen to it on line or watch it. But the point is, the biblical theology of politics, not projecting politics on a passage and how do we understand all that Jesus meant.
Secondly, the goal of what Paul tells us is the reason we have government, and the reason we pray for these people in office and kings and authorities and such is that we may live a peaceful quiet and godly life. And if government does their part they are to protect us from enemies foreign and domestic, right. That’s what God designed them to do. When the people, when Israel wanted to be like other nations, “Give us king, Samuel,” “God your king;” it’s a theocracy. We’ll talk about this a little bit. It’s a theocracy. You don’t have a king. No, we want to be like other nations.
What a terrible thing to want to be, and they became like other nations. And Samuel told them, when you get this king he will take your children, he will take your lands, your field, the first of your flocks, he will take offerings from you. He will take your livestock because he will have to build an army to protect you. If you’re going to put your trust in a king then we’re going to have to supply the king, and so we have this thing called taxes. Go back to antiquity.
Another passage that you know very well to jot down is Romans 13, the first 7 verses. We won’t read all of them, Romans 1:1: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority is opposed to the ordinance of God.” And, wow, would we like to take that out of the Bible!
There are many principles from Romans 13. I would say, number one, we have to submit to governing authorities. The reason is because God is the one who has sovereignly established a civil authority over the world. And whether it’s a megalomaniac dictator or the great experiment of the three branches of government that we have enjoyed for 200 years and counting, legislative, judicial and executive branch, whatever the form of government, it is a God-ordained thing. And we have complications in there; because when the government does evil, how do we deal with that? We’ll talk a little bit about that: “He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” Hard to choke down when the government is immoral or wrong, and so we have civil disobedience. That’s for another seminar.
When we study the Old Testament it’s essential to keep some things in mind. We have this concept of a theocracy. You know the story well. From Abraham to a theocracy, to a monarchy: “Give us a king.” And so Saul’s chosen head and shoulders above everybody else. I love the passage; he’s taller than everyone. He’s handsome. He looks like a king, walks like a king, strong like a king, and he’s hiding in the luggage. And then we have this little David, not the firstborn, not the next, not the next, not the,… the teenager out tending sheep. And unless you’re a very careful student of the Bible you’ve probably missed it. When David’s introduced and he’s sent to the line to take his brothers cheese and bread and supplies and see how things are going, he leaves the luggage and he goes to the front of the battle. We might say a snotty nose teenager versus a guy head and shoulders above the rest, who couldn’t wear the armor of the king. And God sees not as man sees, but God chooses a different thing.
So the monarchy begins and it’s a failure. Thirty eight kings, some good, some not so good, and then we enter the darkest period of Israel’s history and the period of the Judges. Approach the Old Testament as a living history and understand what changes between the Old and New Testament. The New Covenant, of course, changes things. Christ fulfilling the Law, there is no longer a theocracy of God, Yahweh, Elohim, over His chosen Jewish people. There is no longer a monarchy that’s gone crazy. The divided kingdoms of Israel in the North, Judah in the South, they’ll enter civil war, which we’ll see in the book of Judges; fighting within the tribes. And on and on the disintegration, the failed experiment of “let us be like other nations.”
And Judges is a record of about 300-410 years. We’ll look at a verse tonight that will cover 200 and change years. Try to explain American history in one or two verses! So 350-410 years cover these chapters we call the little book of Judges. It’s a living history. We also need to approach it as what is. Whenever you read the Bible, I always reduce it to two things: [a] What is the Bible telling me about God, His character, His personality, His commandments, His laws? And [b] as a believer in Christ, how do I respond to those truths? So there’s always two sides. If nothing else, you always ask what am I learning about God and then how do I respond to that teaching, that instruction I’m learning about Him as I read it?
Obviously the Old Testament can only be understood as we look through a Christological lens, thirdly. We have to see these truths through Christ because He is the eternal existing King. He’s always existed. He’s always been at the right hand of the Father. He interrupts time and space we might say in Galatians 4:4, “At the proper time God sent forth His Son born of a virgin, born under the Law.” Galatians 4:4 is a great Christmas sermon, by the way, because God interrupted time and sent Jesus. And Christ comes and He lives 32-33 years and change, as the Messiah who’s crucified, and the would-be King. We have to understand the divine commentary or we can’t make sense of it.
As followers of Christ we have a distinct faith. Augustine and others have observed we’re citizens of two worlds. We’re citizens of the temporal, fleeting world, and we’re citizens of an eternal kingdom; and therein is the challenge. So how do we live in that push and pull? How do we live as citizens of two states?
Now, with all that, let’s talk about the book of Judges a little bit. The title of Judges is the key verb in the book. If you have your Bible and you’ve opened it to the book of Judges. Liber judicum was the Latin gloss of the Hebrew word I won’t bore you with. It’s found 30 times in the book in English the way it’s rendered “judges.” We think of a judge as a man or a woman in a black robe. And we have to understand a little bit more of the, not the judicial branch, these judges were sort of militaristic administrators. They were military. Let’s put it in our terms; they were generals who were also administrators. Now, they degrade and we’ll look at some that change, but essentially it was military and administrative the way we look at our judicial branches rolled into one. That was the role of the Old Testament judge.
If you turn over to Judges 2:16 we’ll give you the definition: “The Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. And when the Lord raised up judges for them the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge.” So that’s the high level principle concept of the judge. And, of course, if you look on your card we have the identification of the judges. On the front we have Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elan, Abdon and Samson. We have more about Gideon and Samson than any of the other judges. Some of them we know very little about.
But chapter 2 verse 16 is your key verse for understanding the role of the would-be judge. Look at it again: “He raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.” Keep in mind this is 300-400 years and change. We’re 200 and how many years old this year? Thirty-six, is that right? You should know. Come on, you should know. How old are we? You of all people should know. Over 200, let’s just say that’s the way I’d say it.
Listen to just some verses I’m going read. Don’t try to turn. Ruth 1: “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed.” In the Hebrew it says, “It came about in the days when the judges were judging.” What’s the story of Ruth? A wonderful story. What do you know about Ruth? Talk to me. Boaz. Who is Boaz? What’s the key word with Boaz? One more word, kinsman-redeemer, very important. Who’s Boaz a type of? The Christ. Who’s Ruth? A sinner, a Moabite. Hello, McFly. How do you enter a Moabite into the construct of the messianic lineage? It’s grafted in.
How many of you have been to Israel? You have to go to Israel. I’m making one last hurrah next year and then I’m done. I can’t do it anymore, but I love to go to Israel and show people this is where Ruth and Naomi would have crossed the Lisan, across the Dead Sea, and gone up to in Engedi to get water and on up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, because they heard rumor that God had visited His people and given them bread, which meant rain. Because apart from rain you have no grain; apart from rain you have no herds; they couldn’t reproduce. If you’ve not been to the south part of Israel it’s hard to understand that.
Second Samuel 7. Again, just listen, 2 Samuel 7:11, “Even from the day I commanded judges to be over My people Israel, I will give you rest from all your enemies.” So we have this picture in Ruth of this, it’s a romantic wonderful story of pious godly Jews doing the right things even with a married-into the Jewish system Moabite woman, who Boaz steps up as the kinsmen-redeemer and redeems a sinner, the Moabite, the throw-away Gentile we might say, and grafts her in as one of you, said so well, and she becomes part of the lineage of the King.
Second Kings 23:22, “Surely such a Passover has not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah,” the divided kingdom. Remember they quit doing the commemorated sacrifices and statutes and perpetual ordinances. They were to do it every year and they stopped doing those things. So Judges is the dark time.
Now, the time and setting and the historical background. As I’ve said, Joshua has died. If you want to turn back one page in your Bible you’ll see in Joshua 24:29 the death and burial account of Joshua. “It came about,” in verse 29, “that Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old and they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash. Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel. Now, they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons.”
If we had time to go into land deals from Abram’s purchase of the caves of Machpelah to this, this is what establishes Israel, and this is why this is recorded. Israel plays a role for all of history. Verse 33: “Then Eleazar the son of Aaron died; they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas, the son which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.” So we have the epitaph. There’s more in verse 24, we may have time to look at. But the point is, Joshua’s dead. Joshua was the one who,… of course, Joshua and Caleb are the two who survived. Everyone 20 and older died. Joshua and Caleb are the old guys who come in to take the land. And much of the land is yet to be conquered, and that is the story of Judges, the land yet to be conquered.
Verse 1 of Judges: “Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord saying, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites and fight against them?’ The Lord said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I’ve given the land into his hand.’ Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, ‘Come up with me in the territory allotted that we may fight against the Canaanites and I in turn will go with you to the territory allotted to you.’ So Simeon went up with him. Judah went up, and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands and defeated 10,000 men at Bezek. There they found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and brought him against him and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites. But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. Adoni-bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather up the scrapes under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.’ And they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. Then the sons of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire.”
They fought against what? Jerusalem. These are not occupied lands yet. They’re inhabited by Canaanites. “Afterward the sons of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country of the Negev,” which just means southern Israel.
To understand the Holy Land, Israel would fit in the state of New Jersey or Connecticut, the entire country. It’s a very small country. It takes about two hours at most to drive from the northern most part up in Mount Hermon, two and a half all the way down to the Dead Sea on the highway. So it’s not a big land; but by foot it’s a little different. It’s a small piece of geography today.
“So Judah went against the Canaanites,” verse 10, “who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.” We’ll stop there for a second. Land yet to be conquered. Some of us grew up in different traditions. Some of you might have grown up in a tradition where the land of Israel doesn’t mean that much. It’s a piece of dirt.
I sat a table, I was living in northern Virginia, Washington DC area, for about 12 years and we were in this one of these mini-hoopla things. And I was sitting with all these pastors, invited to this event. And important people were speaking. And rather than talk about the latest book or movie we had read or seen, I tossed out the question; I said, to you, is Israel a piece of dirt, is it inconsequential, or does it play some role in the future? And I think there were eight, let’s say, maybe 10 sitting at the table. That’s what I remember. And we went around and they all answered the question. And they were all variance of it’s just dirt. It doesn’t matter anymore.
And the last gentleman, Michael Cromartie—I don’t have a problem mentioning his name; Michael and I are friends. Some of you might know Michael. He said, “Well, given your options, it’s more than a piece of dirt, but not much.” And as those things go, no one asked me my opinion. But anyway, I disagree. I think Israel as the land is key. You can’t cut Deuteronomy 30 out of the Bible. You can’t cut much of the land left to be. We’ll talk more tomorrow or maybe tonight, depending on how fast I go, why the land, I believe continues to be important.
Now on the back of this card there are 7 cycles of sin. And there are all sorts of mnemonics and ways to do it, but to understand the book of Judges you’ve got to get a high view of this 300-400 year process. And you’ll see at the top there, “The sons of Israel did what was evil,” or some very close rendering of that phrase. And I’ve given you all the references where that occurs, so chapter 2:11, so forth and so on. And you can use any mnemonic you want. This is R; you’ve got rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration, rest. In fact, to keep you away, say them out loud with me: Rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration, rest. One more time: rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration, and rest. So the people will rebel. They’ll sin, they’ll be evil and then there’ll be a retribution. There’ll be a punishment from God. God will use evil nations, evil people to punish them. And then the people will repent. And when they repent God will restore them through the judge and then they will rest. And then they’ll go back to the cycle, every time.
Sometimes it’s shorter. And the times were on the front, on the front of the card. So Othniel, you’ve got eight years of rest; Ehud, 18 years of rest; Deborah, you’ve got 40 years of rest. And on and on they go. So those cycles are helpful as you look at the story. Just like we would tell more history about John Adams than, you know, some lesser known father of our country, and the same is true in biblical history.
What are we going to see in the book of Judges? Number one: we’re going to see, how will God work with the disobedient people? He’s tried to,… tried is a poor word to use, anthropomorphically. God has presented Himself as the theocratic King, and they didn’t want Him. In the dark days of the judges they’re going to go through these cycles. He’s going to try to help them in the sense that He will offer their solutions clearly in His Word and through His prophets and through His judges, but they will fail again and again and again. So what we’ll see is how will He work with the disobedient people, ongoingly disobedient, if “ongoingly” is a word. Israel’s spiritual condition will be a core, a direct corollary to their political and their material prosperity. Their spiritual condition will be a direct corollary to their material and to their political prosperity.
Secondly, how will God’s people endure under discipline? Alright, I don’t want to be Chicken Little, but in my mere 55 years of living and the 30 years I have sort of tried to learn about our country and watch politics and study,… You read during World War II, some of you lived through that, and you know more than I do. I suspect when Hitler was destroying the world there were sermons and great fear, you know, that we don’t, we’ve not yet tasted. But I don’t believe the country was as divided. Yes, there were divisions, and yes, you can read pacifistic leaders, but at some point, as Churchill said, “The lion had to roar.” And when America finally got involved in Kaiser and started building planes and ships like the banshee, and we started sending 19 year olds like crazy to go die for their country and to fight and the allied war, Michael Costas’ book Ike it’s a tremendous read about D-Day alone. And you begin to see the difference today. Nine-eleven is gone. It’s forgotten. Some of you remember December 7, 1941, and you’ll never forget it. This generation doesn’t care about 9/11. Now, that’s an overstatement, but not too much of one. So we’re in a different place.
How will God’s people live? We’re not a theocracy. We’re not Israel. How are we going to live? And really we’re in Babylonian captivity if you will. Even if this was a Judeo-Christian country, which could be debated; let’s say it was, it’s not anymore. We’re in Babylon. So how will we live? How will we endure? How will we be faithful with an unfaithful government? How will we be a generation that knows not God? How will we live in a generation that knows not God and help them along?
My ultimate loyalties must be to a theocracy, not a democracy. Please hear that very clearly. That is, you know, David Augsburger said “No one ever shed a tear over a propositional truth.” But this is an important statement: Where our allegiance is—to a theocracy, not a democracy. Or to say it the way my friend Crawford Loritts says it, “Jesus Christ does not stand when we say the pledge of allegiance.” We do not wrap the cross of Christ in a flag. And the church that I was part of in Washington DC, if I was to say that they would go, “I don’t know about that,” because they were a very patriotic, loved God and loved their country people. And that’s kind of a little bit edgy there, Easley, but it’s true.
Our citizenship says, “I love our country.” It’s not my home. It’s not your home. I want a great country for my kids and grandkids, if I ever have any. Actually, I just want my kids out of my house at this stage of life. I really don’t care about grandchildren at all.
Well, the first chapter of Judges, which we’re just going to take a fly over, I just want to show you some things to give you a big picture. So if you’ve got your Bible, open to Judges, chapter 1. Now there’s a back story about the thumbs and the big toes that I don’t have time to go into. But if you were to go back to the blessing in Genesis and the tribes and so forth, the 12 tribes, and Judah is the first tribe, and there’s some talionic irony here, maybe,… well, I’m not going to go there. But there’s a backstory about the toes and the thumbs. We don’t have time. But the point I want to simply make was they shouldn’t have done this. That’s all we’re going to say. They overstepped; it became retribution and revenge and it was done in an improper way, and we’ll talk about the real issue that was going on here.
Now if you pick up verse 11 your Bible might say something about capture of other cities. They went down to Debir. In verse 12, “Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give my daughter Achsah for his wife. Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter.” It might be nephew, probably nephew, “gave him his daughter Achsah.” My oldest two daughters Hanna and Jessie are 28 and 23. They still have me wrapped around their little finger at this age. I have the youngest 17, who I just, I don’t have more fingers left, but the youngest 17-year-old is getting there. And I have a son who I’m ready to just throw out of the house. But he’ll come around one day. He’s just, he doesn’t have a brain yet. But, but Caleb and Achsah were thick as thieves.
And this is a great insight on a father and daughter love. And she says in verse 15, “Give me a blessing, since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me the springs of water.” She’s a smart girl. This is like, “Daddy, give me where the oil wells are on the property, not the other one.” You know, that’s basically what she’s asking for. “So Caleb gave her the upper springs.” In the Old Testament, I mean in Israel, water’s life. The war will not be about oil in Israel. It will be about water. The Sea of Galilee is being over-irrigated. The Dead Sea is being over-mined. They’re talking about bringing the Mediterranean into the Dead Sea which would be, you think about our greens and environmentalists over here. To put sea water into the Dead Sea would completely change the ecosystem, and so you’ve got all parties concerned.
I think it’s something like $2 billion a year they mine out of the Dead Sea, for minerals, like agave products and things that you women rub on your bodies, all around the world that like those things. And it’s a cash cow, so they don’t want to stop harvesting the water in the Dead Sea. And unless you get snow on Mount Hermon and the springs come down from Banias all the way down into the Jordan, the Galilee doesn’t get the water and Jordan takes water out of the Galilee. And Israel takes water, Jerusalem takes water, Israel takes it out of there. It evaporates. And since I’ve been going the water has come down, I mean, some of the piers were 10 and 12 feet above, you know, where the boats are now. And it’s evaporating and it’s being overused. It will be about water; that’s why the Jews are working on desalination more than anybody on the planet. And they’ve got the technology to do it; it’s just awfully expensive and very inefficient, but the Jews are, the Israelites are smart folks, even to this day.
Well, in verse 16, “The descendants of Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law,” are explained, about the “wilderness of Judah.” Verse 17: “Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they struck the Canaanites living in Zephath, utterly destroyed it.” Verse 19: “The Lord was with Judah, and took possession of the hill country;” notice, “but they could drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.” They were outmatched in their armor. “They gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there three sons of Anak.”
You know, he’s 85 plus in this story. I love that exchange with him and Joshua when he wants to go up and fight the Canaanites. He goes, “I’m 85 and I’m still on my youth and vigor,” and I just love that guy. He’s still kicking tail at 85 and he’s still fighting and all the other spies are dead. Everybody 20 and over are dead from that era. Don’t forget that.
Verse 21: “The sons of Benjamin could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is not yet the holy city. And this will be a plague. “Likewise the house of Joseph went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. The house of Joseph spied out Bethel (now the name of the city was formerly Luz). The spies saw a man coming to the city. ‘Please show us the entrance.’” You’ve got to see humor in this. This is like, this is like Rahab on the wall, you know. “So they show them the entrance into the city.” You know, well, I’m sorry, I think it’s funny. “The man went into the hill of the land of the Hittites and he built a city named Luz, which is there to this day.”
Now verse 27 records the failures, and I’m just going to show you very quickly some things. Verse 27: “Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean.” Verse 28: “They did not drive them out completely.” Verse 29: “Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in the land of Gezer.” Verse 30: “Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron,” 31: “Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco.” Verse 32, the last strophe, “They did not drive them out.” Verse 33: “Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh.” Verse 34: “The Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down into the valley.” So we have this litany of failures that are starting to mount up.
Now turn back to Joshua 23 and let me show you how it ties together. Joshua 23, beginning in verse 4: “See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, and all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea, toward the setting of the sun.” And so if you look at the maps in the back of your Bible, the Jordan River is a natural valley dividing line from the Sea of Galilee all the way down to the Dead Sea. It looks like a telephone at the bottom. And so from your orientation it would be east to the Great Sea, the Mediterranean Sea. So it forms a natural border. And this is the land that they’re told they will have.
Verse 5: “The Lord your God, He will thrust them out before you and drive them before you and you will possess their land, just as the Lord your God has promised you,” a.k.a. “the Promised Land.” “Be very firm then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you will not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the names of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them. But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out the great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you just as He promised. So take diligent heed to yourselves to the love the Lord your God. For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare to you and a trap and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you. Now behold, today I’m going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God has spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, and not one of them has failed.”
If you’re an under-liner or circle or put notes in your margin, that’s a verse you need to know. “Not one word of the good words of the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed. All have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed,” verse 14.
“It shall come about just as the good words of the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you so that the Lord will bring upon you all the threats until He destroyed you from off this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.” Verse 16: “When you transgress” —not “if;” kind of scary, isn’t it? “If” is a since/then clause—“when you transgress the Covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and you go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
So that’s the backdrop of chapter 1. It’s joyful, isn’t it? It’s going to get better. Now let me answer a couple of quick questions. Number one: when is it appropriate to exterminate a nation? When Christians are often accused and when, you know, the Bible is a big book and it can be taken out of context. And people say, well, you know God was a bloody God and it’s no different than Islam. Islam comes in and they destroy a people or we think of Rwandan massacre or Sudan. Genocide we call it, exterminating a people group. How can we understand God exterminating a people group, which He’s going to tell them to do?
Number one: we have a theocracy and a chosen people. Don’t forget this. This is a theocracy; God chose Israel. And in my sanctified imagination the reason He chose Israel is because there was not a more stubborn necked people on the planet. And that’s illustrative of all of us in our sin. We’re all stiff-necked people. They put two rods in my neck from C-3, 4, 5, 6, 7, T-1, and I am a stiff-necked Gentile, just for the record. But we all stiff-necked people. We are all resistant to God. And so when He chooses this Jewish population to become known as the Jews, Abraham’s descendants, and He tells them to go exterminate a people. So number one: we have a theocracy, a chosen people.
Now, they were to be a blessing—we’ll look at that later—to the whole world. So when God says you’re going to go up and destroy the Canaanites or the Jebusites or whoever you’re going to fight and take possession of the land, how does He do that? How can God do that? Because when a people group hate God’s chosen people, a.k.a. His Son—Israel’s His Son—they hate their God. And God in His sovereignty, in His providence that you and I cannot comprehend, we can grasp a thimble full of knowledge from the oceans of God’s knowledge, when He says to go in and utterly destroy them, there are many reasons for that. But first, know these people hated Yahweh Elohim and they hated Yahweh Elohim’s people and they wanted to destroy them because they are a polytheistic group that wants to destroy the notion of a monotheistic God.
That was the whole battle with Egypt. They’ve codified some 8,000 different idol names in Egypt’s background. We know of some popular ones, but over 8,000. We know the Sun god Ra, for example, Isis, but they were in an idolatrous culture. No, there’s one God. “The Lord your God is one.” What’s the other religion that’s monotheistic? Islam. So we’ve got these two entities that are fighting even till today, one true God. Which one’s the right God?
So when a people group hates Yahweh Elohim—they hate Yahweh Elohim’s chosen people, they’re hating His Son—God will, in His divine providential economy say, “You’ve got to destroy them; because if you don’t you’re going to intermarry with them and you’re going to adopt their idols,” which was true from the beginning. It’ll happen in the book of Judges. It’ll happen in Solomon’s time, in David’s time, under the monarchies that fail. So it’s hard for us to comprehend it, but there are times when God gives a directive. They’re not merely enemies. They were people that hated God’s people who would have exterminated God’s people and therefore they would have tried to “exterminate the name of God.”
A lesson from chapter 1, and then I need to give you a break because I can see you’re fading. Partial obedience always leads to misery. Ephraim and Judah partnered up to go, which is probably not bad. But what they did was an egregious retribution type of thing. We also see them enslaving people rather than killing them. And, you know, again, the political culture of the day to even talk about this seems unconscionable, but if God said go in there and utterly destroy them, you’d better go in there and utterly destroy them. When He told Saul to kill them all, what is the bleating of the sheep when Samuel comes up? What is this I hear?
Partial obedience always leads to misery. And it’s translated into our culture in spades. We obey God when it makes sense, when it seems right. We can cheat a little here and lie a little there and fudge a little, and it’s the age old problem. When I catch one of my kids in a lie, when they were younger we could have videotape, fingerprints, smoking gun, eyewitness videos, and one child in particular was just, I mean, they just lied about everything. I mean literally, you could have smoking gun, videotape, eyewitnesses and they’d say “I didn’t do it.” They’d lie and lie and lie and lie and lie. Now just think. You know, if you would just say, “I did it, dad. I was wrong.” I’d say “You’re forgiven. Now you’re going to fix it or pay for it or whatever, but it’s done.” And you all who are parents and grandparents know when you parent your children, as soon as you finish the lecture, it’s a slow echo in the back of your head that says, “You were just the same.”
Partial obedience always leads to misery. When I am around temptations that turn my head and turn my heart from God and I succumb to those temptations; you know, as you get older—and this is one of the good parts of getting older—you can’t act out a lot of your sins. You know what I mean. Some of you know what I mean. You know my sin is not in my actions. My sin is between my temples and in the cavity of my heart. And it’s just as egregious as acting it out. And I can’t be a better person. I can’t make my flesh better, nor can you. But by God’s Spirit and by His Word and by His people hopefully we can grow and mature and become the kind of people He wants us to be. But partial obedience will always lead to disobedience.
Let me introduce you to chapter 2 and then I’m going to let you go home. Actually we have a couple of housekeeping items. Chapter 2, verse 1: “The angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, “I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down all their altars.” But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?’” Underlined in my Bible, “what is this you have done?”
“Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become as thorns.’” Didn’t we just read that in Joshua? Didn’t we just read that? See the connective tissue? So we’ve got this 350-410 years of history covered. Chapter 1 gives us the high summary, introduction overview of the whole storyline, and now we’re introduced to the angel of the Lord.
Do you know the term “theophany?” You know the term “Christophany?” A big, big theological word that means a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ—a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ before He’s born of Mary as an infant. We have many of them in the Old Testament. This is one of them. And this is one of the most unique ones because of the first person pronoun in your English Bible. “The angel of the Lord came from Gilgal to Bochim,” which is weeping, the Valley of Weeping. “I brought you up.” This isn’t some angel sent by God named Gabriel or Lucifer or someone else or Michael. This is “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your father, which I said ‘I will never break My.’” There’s no angel made a covenant with God’s people. So this is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. “‘You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land; you will tear down their altars.’ But you’ve not obeyed Me.”
Verse 4: “When the angel of the Lord spoke these words all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they named the place Bochim,” which means weeping, “and there they sacrificed to the Lord.” And then Joshua is reintroduced into this story. Verse 10: “All that generation were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.”
And this is the hinge piece. They failed in keeping Deuteronomy 6; they’ve failed in keeping Joshua’s instructions about the land. A generation that knew not God. And I’ll end on this simple thought. We have a generation that knows not God.
How many of you are grandparents? Wow! Let me ask you differently. How many are not grandparents? Very few of us. When some of you voiced that in the beginning, “I fear for my children and grandchildren,” let me just say this as we end. Let’s move it from theory to the personal. You have imperceptible influence over your grandchildren you do not realize. Let me say it again. You have imperceptible influence over your grandchildren you do not realize. You might be me-maw or grammie or grams or paw paw or whatever.
I had a friend of mine,… I digress again, but it’s a great story. They called her Poo Poo, because the first grandchild called her Poo Poo. I went to their home for dinner one time when where’s Poo Poo? And I went what kind of house am I in? And they called her Poo Poo. Now that’s an endearing; I mean would you let yourself be called Poo Poo? I wouldn’t. I’m sorry. My mom was Grand Mare. She’s Mary Ann and my dad always called her Mare, which was endearing to her, so she’s Grand Mare. You have such influence, but it’s imperceptible. You can’t see it. And you may not, but don’t stop. Don’t stop. Tell them your story.
When my dad died two years ago he did not know Christ. But my dad had imperceptible influence on my kids. Over two years ago at my wife’s insistence we went down to Houston. I did not want to go, but my wife is always smarter than me and she says, “We have to go see your parents.” And so we went down and spent Christmas with my folks. And my dad, who was 89 when he died, he was an x-ray technician in World War II and dad, some of you who are of the Depression mindset, please hear me kindly. Dad saved everything. When he died I took one ton of stuff to the Houston dump, literally, a ton of stuff, but I won’t digress that far. But he had these x-rays that he had taken in the late 40’s, mid 40’s when he was an x-ray technician in the Army of broken bones, and a picture of him with the docs in the big huge x-ray machines when they had to be developed like pictures and the see, a developer and a stock solution, and acidic acid in a dark room and then clipped up and the radiologist got to look at them, whatever. And of course now it’s done in 10 seconds, but that was then; this is now.
And dad saved these x-rays. Why I don’t know. But he’s showing my kids, his grandchildren these x-rays. Now they’re teenagers and they are completely disinterested. And paw paw is showing them this x-ray. One of them he pulled out was a picture, and I’d seen these innumerable times. I mean, quizzed as a child. But one of them is a picture of a cat that’s pregnant. And he and buddy found a cat and they took a little ether and they put it in a box and they put the cat to sleep and they took an x-ray of the cat, because that’s what you do when you’re bored in the army and you’re an x-ray technician. And he showed my, his grandchildren this x-ray of this cat with the kittens. And of course he had to show them before they got it and they could see it. Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!, you know.
And so just recently I was with one of my younger children, my 17 or 18 year old. I forget which, and d, we were talking about paw paw. And they said, “I remember when paw paw showed us those x-rays of those kittens.” I don’t understand the mind. I don’t understand the neuroscience of why we make connections of what we remember. But if my kids remember something as silly and illustrative, and I can still see them in that bedroom when he was holding them up to the light explaining it, and they were bored out of their mind, but they remembered. How much more of your story of Christ? How much more of what He’s done for you?
On the way driving up there today I talked to a 93 year old friend of mine. She’s a precious, precious woman in Florida. She’s got more energy than I do. I was telling some folks at dinner that she’s in Naples and she works at the health clinic three days a week in taking the 60 and 70 year olds who are in worse shape than she at 93. She’s a pistol, and she says “I’m in such good health. I take one pill a day.” I go, “Oh, shut up.” And we have a great friendship. She’s a dear woman, loves Christ. And none of her children, none of her grandchildren, none of them are believers, not one of them. She came to Christ later in life and we have become dear friends in the past four or five years. And she encourages me in ways I can’t even articulate.
And she says, and one of her daughters has been married five times, and she says, “I don’t know, Michael, I don’t know, but I just believe they’re going to come to Christ.” And I was sharing with someone at dinner, I don’t think that’s positive mental attitude. She’s walked with Christ long enough and she’s seen enough water under the bridge and she prays. Every morning she has an hour devotion, and then she walks for an hour and she lives in a largely Jewish compound and she goes, “I pray for all the Jews when I walk. And I pray for,” and she prays out loud. She’s a feisty gal. Puts a nativity set out in front of her door. She’s done it for 25 years. Nobody touches her.
Imperceptible influence. We have a generation that’s lost their God. I have a friend running for governor in another state and he spoke to a group of seniors recently and he said, “You know, you are the greatest generation and I fear you’re going to have to be the greatest generation again because the rest of them aren’t doing it.” Tell your story to your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren and do it creatively and do it kindly and do it in fun ways and remind them of your God. These people had seen miracles no one had seen and in one generation they turn away, one generation. And it, from these failing hands, the torch passed to us, we pass it to you. May it be held high? If you don’t do it, if I don’t do it, mea culpa.
Prayer: Father, thank You for these men and women and thank You for Your Word that is timeless and inexhaustible, rich in texture and story and truth and theology. We can barely get a sip of it. Help us to have minds that are eager to learn and to grow and not just to add knowledge to the brain but to be changed and transformed into men and women who have perceptible influence with our kids, our grandchildren and even our country. We ask in Christ’s name, amen.