[This sermon was preached on Judges chapter 3:1-6 on Sunday, September 3, 2017, at Christ Church Paarl by William King. The audio version can be found here.]
Life in the promised land did not start as expected. Israel was supposed to conquer the land that God gave to their ancestors. They were supposed to drive out the corrupt nations from the land, occupy it for themselves, and live under the lordship of God.
But they failed dismally in obeying this command. This the book of Judges clearly shows. In the first 2 chapters, we have seen the downward spiral of misery due to their disobedience. Chapter 3 opens in the same way chapter 2 closes:
So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua (2:20-23).
Clearly, they were not in a comfortable place. But chapter 3 picks up the important point that God is still in control, and that He did not leave the Nation to work out their own plans to remedy the situation. God would use the situation, even their sinful stubbornness, to bring glory to His holy name. The consequences of their disobedience, He would now use as a test of obedience.
This testing comprised of two aspects, namely instruction and a test of faithfulness.
The lessons of history (v1-2)
Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.
There is a saying that it takes only one generation to fall away from the faith. This text certainly underscores the urgency of each generation walking in obedience to God.
A new generation was now living in the land. This generation did not know what it meant for them to get possession of this land. Sure, they knew that their ancestors received promises from God; sure, they knew their forefathers were slaves in Egypt; sure, they knew that battles had to be fought on the road to the land; but they did not know the cost that was paid because they did not have first-hand experience.
Therefore, when God left the nations there to teach this new generation war, it was not to train them how to fight, but to teach them what it meant to fight for what is important. They had to realise, through their own constant engagement in war, that complacency had no place in their walk with God. Through practical experience, they were taught what their forefathers had to endure for them to be in their Promised Land!
We may not fight these physical wars today to secure our spiritual rest. Our battles are spiritual; we wage ware against the dark forces of Satan’s kingdom. BUT the same principle applies as for Israel:
The children of God need to know war to be able to stand firm in their faith, and this holds true for every generation! They need to know the battles that were fought in order to know why and how to fight their own battles.
Do we know what it cost for us to enjoy the preaching of the Word and the fellowship of believers in such freedom in this community? Do we know what our ancestors had to endure so that we can have this? Do we treasure the many who died, being burnt alive, tortured to death, ridiculed and driven from their homeland through war? Some had to muster all the courage to stand up and fight major theological wars. Athanasius had to stand up for the divinity of Christ; Augustine had to boldly confess God’s sovereignty, our sinfulness, and God’s grace; John Huss and many others were burnt alive in order for us to have God’s Word in the common language; Martin Luther faced the whole of Roman Catholicism in formulating the doctrine of justification; the Puritans had to flee England and later Holland in order to search for freedom from persecution; the same goes for the Huguenots who fled France and settled in many countries, of which South Africa was one of the major ones! And this is only a snippet of our spiritual legacy.
Brothers and sisters, there is no place for complacency. If these people did not take up the battles, the generations that followed, would be spiritually depraved. The test in this is the following:
Will you hold your faith as dear to you and the generations to come, even if it will cost you everything? The instruction is not to train how to fight, but to test your faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel.
A standard of living (v4)
The second aspect of the testing had to do with their willingness to accept a totally new standard of living, as contained in God’s commands!
They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses (verse 4).
The challenge wasn’t a mere living amongst likeminded people who enjoyed each other’s fellowship and friendship. This would be a clash of worldviews. Israel on the one side worshipping one God opposed to the heathens who adored many gods; Israel knowing what sin is considering their view of God, versus nations who had no real concept of sin and enmity towards their gods. These opposing world views would lead to very different lifestyles. The one governed by the laws that God gave through Moses, the other governed by their own sinful desires.
The fact is it was a truly hostile environment for God’s people, and the test was one of true obedience.
The same holds for us today who call ourselves Christians. We live in very hostile environment. We must realise our faith in Christ is not a picnic in the park – it is a very hostile war zone! We face different opposing worldviews, not only from outside, but also from within our Christian community. From outside, we face Secularism, Materialism, Moralism, Hinduism, Islam, Atheism, to name but a few. Internally we face the Prosperity Gospel, the Word of Faith Movement, The “Best-life-now” theology, the so-called Prophetic movements, Liberalism, Progressive Christianity. And yes, at their core, these all hold to a different worldview than what the Bible teaches.
Christian, what will your response be? The aim of this test is clear: Will you obey the commandments of the Law? Will you obey? This does not mean a legalistic moralism, but an understanding of the words of our Lord:
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
It has all to do with your faith in Christ and your love for Him. So the crux of the test is this: do you believe He is God’s only way of salvation for the world and yourself, and do you love Him so much that you are willing to obey His Word above all else?
The tragedy of compromise (v5-6)
The sad reality is that Israel failed! Consistantly!
So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
They accepted the hostile environment, made plans to accommodate it, and sacrificed everything that was meant to be dear to them. They ignored all lessons from history and trampled on God’s holy laws. The price they paid was a life of total misery, of utter shame, and slavery to their own sinful desires. God gave them over to a life they hoped would bring them joy and pleasure, and it resulted in quite the opposite.
What a morbid end to this section! But, we need to know that the Bible does not hide reality, and sometimes reality is unpleasant. These last verses show the reality of compromise. It leads to a sinful calamity.
This need not be. The reality is before us every day. The hostile world wishes to devour. Will you obey the commands of our Lord and fight for the Faith so that the generations that follow will have a sure foundation from which they can take this fight further?