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  • 1. Book of Judges - FNG, Friday, Aug 3, 2012Intro to the bookAs we journey through the books of the Bible this month we come to the book ofJudges. If this book were to be rated like movies are, I’m sure it would have an R rating.It has many shocking stories of violence, betrayal and intrigue, capped off by agruesome story of the Levite and his concubine which we actually talked about sometime ago. And yet it is also home to some of our favorite stories from Sabbath Schooland Sunday School classes - stories about Samson and Gideon.(Show modern map) Geographically we are still in the same area of the middle east aswe have been for the past couple of books. (show old map) In the book of Judges we seea continuation from the book of Joshua, as the tribes battle it out to clear their allocatedterritories. The book covers the period from the death of Joshua, somewhere around1380 BC to just before king Saul in 1050 BC, so we are zooming over about 300 yearsworth of Jewish history in this book. Over that span of time we get to see a lot of backand forth, as the Israelites win more land, and then have parts of their land conqueredby other nations.Israel had no king at this time. The nation was supposed to be a theocracy, meaning itwas governed by God. The idea was to have God leading the nation, making His willknown through the priests. I’m not sure if judges were part of the original plan, and it isnot clear if the judges actually did much of what we see judges do today. Only Deborahis cited as actually holding court. The rest of the judges we are told led or judged thenation, but apart from their military exploits we are not told much about what thatlooked like.God of FreedomMany of the critics of the Bible would point to Judges and cite it as one of the mostblatant examples of a tyrannical God. A number of people have taken the crazy andviolent stories, many of which are found in the book of Judges, laid them end to end inall their gory detail and asked a pertinent question: would you let your kids read this?And this is not a bad question to ask. Those of you who have had a chance to read thebook, let me ask you: if it wasn’t in the Bible, would you let your children readsomething like this?If the only thing you read from the Bible was the horrendous stories, it would certainlybe a mind-twisting exercise. It would be like taking a medical book and only laying outall the symptoms and photos of diseases end to end for no other reason than the sheergore factor of it all. But what makes a medical book worthwhile, and what also makesthe Bible worthwhile is the fact that all this gore is set in the context of remedy. These
  • 2. are the problems that need healing, and just like the medical book will help youdiagnose the problem and recommend the right treatment for it, so it is with the Bible -it openly exposes the illness of the selfish, depraved and broken human mind and showsus the way to healing.As we ask our crucial question: “what does this book tell us about God?” I will submit toyou that this book is one of the most important books of the Bible when in comes tounderstanding the way that God works. Sure, it doesn’t contain many, if any, of ourfavorite texts about God’s love for us, but actions speak louder than words, and that iswhy we have so many stories in the Bible. These stories are the body of evidence as weconsider the question of what God is really like. Is He the kind of person you would wantto spend an eternity with?And when you strip the book of Judges to its core, the picture of God that you are leftwith at the end may surprise you. God does not feature particularly prominently in thebook of Judges. What does feature prominently in the book of Judges is how scary it canget when each man does as he sees fit. In Judges I do not see a scary God, but I do see alot of scary people. The Bible repeatedly tells us that in the days of judges each man didas he saw fit, and what we see from the stories is that God let them!You may remember a few months back when we looked at the book of Deuteronomythat we had the law repeated and then had all the blessings for following it and cursesfor failing to follow it. The book of Judges are what those blessings and curses look likein practice. In the past, God used a good deal of imposed discipline to help teach theIsraelites to follow the laws. In Judges, God lets things run their natural course and letsthe Israelites experience the intrinsic consequences of their actions.Allow me for a minute to set up a few pieces of the puzzle and then bring the wholepicture together here. Last time we met here and examined the book of Joshua we sawhow God was essentially using the nation of Israel to establish His street-cred, as itwere. In a culture where each nation had their own god or gods, the power of a god wasdirectly proportional to the strength and prosperity of the nation that worshipped them.And so God, as the patron of Israel, impressed the surrounding nations by the way Hegot the Israelites out of Egypt.As the Israelites were poised to enter the promised land this is what God told themthrough Moses in Deuteronomy: “If you carefully observe all these commands I amgiving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to holdfast to him— then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you willdispossess nations larger and stronger than you.” (Deut. 11:22-23 NIV)It is crucial to understand this point - Israel was surrounded by nations larger andstronger than them, the only way they would be free, safe and prosperous is if Godprotected them. Their continued existence in the midst of the nations that surrounded
  • 3. them was a continual testimony of God’s power - which was all that mattered in theworld 3 millenniums ago. If you wanted to know who the true God was in that world,who was the God who delivered results, you had to look no further than the un-harassed existence of Israel in the midst of other strong nations.But the Israelites were also free to choose which way they wanted to go. Yes, Godoutlined a law for them, and He spelled out the blessings and curses for them, but theywere still free to choose what they wanted to do. And the Israelites evidentlyconsistently chose to accept gods and worship practices of the surrounding nations. Thismeant that God could no longer protect them where they were. Had He continued toprovide the security and prosperity of the Israelite nation, the very people enjoying thebenefits of His patronage would credit the non-existent gods of other nations for theirgood fortune. This scenario would not only completely marginalize God, it would set upa false system of values where not just the Israelites, but the surrounding nations wouldcome to believe that these non-existent gods were actually rather good and useful!What is truly astonishing about God in the book of Judges is that He lets the situationdevelop in the first place. People complain about God being a tyrant in the book ofJudges. Yet a tyrant would clamp down hard at the first sign of mutiny. What God doesin the book of Judges is let the Israelites go. He lets them go the way they have chosen,He lets them worship the gods they have made for themselves - they were completelyfree to do as they please. What the book of Judges also shows us, however, is what theconsequences of those choices were. God simply let them go their own way. When theydidn’t like the consequences and decided to come back, God gladly took them back,even though they were still far from perfect. For God, the commitment to freedom of allHis beings is not just a mere rhetoric, to be employed when it is convenient. It is acomplete and all pervasive.What gets people is this word “anger”. But watch carefully what God does in His“anger”. “In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders whoplundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom theywere no longer able to resist.” (Judges 2:14 NIV). “The anger of the LORD burnedagainst Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of AramNaharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years.” (Judges 3:8 NIV). “Againthe Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord soldthem into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.” (Judges 4:1,2 NIV) Ican go on, but you get the picture - in His “anger” God lets the Israelites go their ownway and lets the militarily superior nations conquer them. After the Israelites feel thepain of reality they come back to God and God raises a judge to rescue them. This goeson back and forth so much that at one point God tries to really drive home the point.“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and theAshtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of theAmmonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord
  • 4. and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands ofthe Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them. Foreighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead,the land of the Amorites. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah,Benjamin and Ephraim; Israel was in great distress. Then the Israelites cried out to theLord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” The Lordreplied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, theSidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me forhelp, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served othergods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let themsave you when you are in trouble!” (Judges 10:6-14 NIV)Have any of you ever seen an episode of Dr Phil? It may be a bit of a stretch, but imaginewith me for a moment God as Dr Phil, and for those of you who haven’t seen him, justimagine a wise, balding, middle aged gentleman. And imagine God saying “you keepchoosing to reject me and follow these other gods.” And in that trademark Dr Phil waythen lean over and ask the obvious question: “How’s that working for ya?” God waswilling to use these teachable moments, but at no point did He take away the ability forthe nation to choose their own way.God had so much at stake here. He had staked His reputation on this nation, to whomHe often referred to as “a stiff necked people”. This nation was a long term project forHim - starting clear back with Abraham somewhere in the 1800’s BC, and the book ofJudges brings us to around 1050 BC. If you had invested so much into a project, oversuch a long period of time, would you not be just a tad aggressive if anyone threatenedto derail the whole thing for you? And yet God let them go, even if it meant that all Hisefforts over all those centuries were for nothing. In His anger, God gave them up to theconsequences of their choices, and allowed the nations who were stronger than them tooccupy and oppress them.I believe this is the way God has acted throughout the history of this world, and will actto the very end. We have been and always will be free to make our own choices. Godwill pursue us and point out to us the intrinsic blessings and curses of our choices, butthe choice will ultimately be our own. And if we reject God, in His anger He will let us goto follow our choices to their ruinous end. Listen to what Apostle Paul said in his letterto the church in Rome:“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness andwickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may beknown about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since thecreation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people arewithout excuse.
  • 5. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him,but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although theyclaimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God forimages made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity forthe degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God fora lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is foreverpraised. Amen.Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. …Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, soGod gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. …Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deservedeath, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those whopractice them.” (Romans 1: 19-26,28,32 NIV)That is the wrath of God - He lets us go and reap the consequences of our actions. Paulspelled it out in the New Testament, but it is in Judges that we see the clearest exampleof how this all works. The Israelites had all the evidence that Yahweh was the true God,they had the law given to them spelling out what they should and should not do, andthe consequences of following the law and failing to follow it. They had no excuse. Yetthey chose to engage in destructive behavior and God was so angry with them that Helet them go their own way.God truly is a God of freedom. We will always be free to choose which way we want togo. All God ever desired from His people is love, and such love has to be freely given,otherwise it is not genuine. But this freedom also leaves open the possibility of rejectingGod, and God does indeed let us do that. What the book of Judges teaches us with all ofthat R-rated content is that God really is a God of freedom. If we reject God’s council wemay become monsters and do horrendous things to one another, but we are free to doso. But that also leaves us free to choose to genuinely reciprocate the love that God hasshown to us.
  • 6. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him,but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although theyclaimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God forimages made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity forthe degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God fora lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is foreverpraised. Amen.Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. …Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, soGod gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. …Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deservedeath, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those whopractice them.” (Romans 1: 19-26,28,32 NIV)That is the wrath of God - He lets us go and reap the consequences of our actions. Paulspelled it out in the New Testament, but it is in Judges that we see the clearest exampleof how this all works. The Israelites had all the evidence that Yahweh was the true God,they had the law given to them spelling out what they should and should not do, andthe consequences of following the law and failing to follow it. They had no excuse. Yetthey chose to engage in destructive behavior and God was so angry with them that Helet them go their own way.God truly is a God of freedom. We will always be free to choose which way we want togo. All God ever desired from His people is love, and such love has to be freely given,otherwise it is not genuine. But this freedom also leaves open the possibility of rejectingGod, and God does indeed let us do that. What the book of Judges teaches us with all ofthat R-rated content is that God really is a God of freedom. If we reject God’s council wemay become monsters and do horrendous things to one another, but we are free to doso. But that also leaves us free to choose to genuinely reciprocate the love that God hasshown to us.