[This sermon was preached on Judges chapters 1 and 2 on Sunday, July 16, 2017, at Christ Church Paarl by William King. The audio version can be found here.]
The book of Judges describes a very difficult and troublesome time for the people of God. Under the leadership of Joshua, they have crossed the Jordan into the promised land. The book of Joshua made it clear that all the good promises that God had made concerning Israel were fulfilled (Joshua 21:45). Now Joshua was dead and they had the task to drive out the rest of the Canaanites from the land (Judges 1:1). The first 26 verses of chapter 1 describes this conquest. Unfortunately, from 1:27 onward we read about their failure to complete their task, which resulted in Israel subduing the inhabitants to forced labor (1:28). Now we find that the inhabitants of the land lived among the people of God (1:27, 29, 30, 32, 33).
This is a very important theme right at the beginning of the book, as this would define their living in this new land. God’s command was that the inhabitants be driven out completely, but Israel failed and this would become their undoing. Chapter 2:2-3 describes this:
But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 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.”
And this is indeed what happened. From here on we read of a vicious cycle of sin and misery.
The mess sin causes
This cycle is described from verse 11-15. Israel would worship the heathen gods, turning their backs on the God who saved them. This provoked God’s anger and He gave them over into the hands of those nations whose gods they served. Verse 15 describes their state as one of “terrible distress”.
We read in these few verses the true nature and the terrible consequences of sin. Sin is to reject the identity and nature of God and change it into what suits your own needs. Verse 10 starts with this, telling us that the new generation did not “know the Lord” nor His works. They had no regard for Him or His goodness he showed His people. Therefore, they easily decided that the God of their parents is not the God they wished to serve. They needed gods who gave them pleasure, who was more lenient in their demands, gods who would make life more enjoyable.
Sin always manifests in idolatry and sexual immorality. This pattern is clear throughout the book of Judges. Whenever God’s people turned their backs at God, their followed idolatry and sexual immorality, which lead to utter misery. And this is the mess that sin causes. The moment you twist and change God’s identity to suit your own needs and desires, you start worshipping the gods of your imagination, the gods that you create in your heart, the gods that you think can redeem your life. Idolatry starts in the heart of man.
The book of Judges is deliberate in its presentation of sin. There is an intensification towards the end. In the last chapters, we discover the raw result of sin as men use and abuse woman, as the nation implodes in internal battle and is ripped apart by lies and deceit. The last verse shows us the full extent of sin:
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (21:25)
Sin is nothing but a downward spiral towards a life of so-called “autonomy”, a life of “self-reliance” where you are in full control without any rules or boundaries to guide you, except those you allow as conducive to your emancipated life!
Unfortunately, the words of chapter 2:15 cannot be wiped from the Word of God:
And they were in terrible distress.
Throughout Judges, whenever the people reached this point, they called upon the only God capable to save, and the remarkable thing is that He heard and listened!
God’s instruments of salvation were called Judges. He raised them up with the purpose to save His people from their oppressors, and they would then rule in matters of the law while they were alive.
We all remember these guys with fondness from our Sunday school days. They were our super heroes! Back then we had no Avengers, or S.H.I.E.L.D. or whichever group of modern day super heroes you know. We had The Judges!
Just think about them: Ehud the Assassin, Shamgar the Fighter, Gideon who knew how to test God, Samson the strong man! This is the picture we had of them.
But the more we read about them, the more we realise that they were flawed human beings, tainted by the sinfulness inherent in our nature, each with his /her weakness. Barak could not go to war without the prophetess Debora; Gideon did not actually have faith – he had to have miracles and dreams, and eventually he ended up leading the people back into idolatry; and Sampson, the strongest man ever, had a weakness for women! Not quite the elite group of heroes you want your children to have as examples!
And yet, despite this, God used these people as His instruments of mercy and deliverance. And the amazing thing is, that while they were alive, the nation had rest from their enemies.
There is however a problem, and this is crux of the book of Judges:
The judges could not bring permanent salvation from the enemy. We are always left wanting after we read Judges. The moment a judge died, Israel would fall back into sin:
But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 2:19
Salvation belongs to the Lord!
The purpose of the book of Judges is to kindle in us the hope of true and lasting salvation, to look for the true Deliverer, the promised Seed of Eve, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, Shiloh, the Prophet promised by Moses!
The judges could not solve the problem of sin. Their own lives were tainted by it. None of them were able to fulfil the demands of God’s holy law. None of them could bring permanent rest from the effects of sin. Sure, they displayed a glimmer of hope while bringing some rest from the enemy from outside. In this they were shadows of a better Savior, the One who would come to crush the devil and live the life Adam so willingly sacrificed for a bite off the forbidden fruit!
The last verse of Judges begs the question: Where is the King who was promised? Jesus Himself answered this question when He was baptized, tempted and started His ministry:
Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! (Matthew 4:17)
Christ alone could withstand the temptations of Satan; only He had the authority over all spheres of creation; He alone could willingly lay down His life to take it up again; He was the one who could invite:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jonah was indeed right when he confessed
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD! (Jonah 2:8-9)
He alone is sufficient to save. The salvation He gives is complete, is permanent, and transforms our lives completely. We need no more if we have Him as our Redeemer! We have true rest if we accept His invitation!
Truly, Salvation belongs to the Lord, because He is God’s true Salvation!