June 7, 2020

The Bible is the story of how God made us, lost us to sin, and worked to reclaim us throughout history, through priests, kings, and prophets, and ultimately through his son Jesus, who was a prophet, priest, and king.

The first five books of the Bible tell the story of how a nation of Hebrew people came into being, existing first as slaves under Pharaoh until God heard their pleas for help. God then raised a leader named Moses to bring them out of slavery.

These Hebrews or Jews became God’s chosen people.

God chose them to be a kingdom of priests to the nations. God wanted these people to represent Him to other nations so that all people would know of His love.

However, these people did not keep God’s commandments.   They spent 40 years in the wilderness for failing to obey God.

Moses died there and never set foot in the promised land. He left Joshua in charge of finishing the job he was unable to complete.

Joshua led them across the Jordan River into the promised land. It took twenty-seven years for them to conquer the land.

Joshua was at the end of his life. He was concerned about the future of the Israelites. The best he could do was challenge them with a parting speech.

“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15 NIV).

All the people assured Joshua they would serve the Lord, but Joshua died with his doubts.

After Joshua died, Israel had no real leader for the first time. It was hard enough for them to follow God with a leader, but without a leader, they lost their moral compass. The Book of Judges tells this tragic story.

As the Book of Judges begins, all the tribes of Israel have their territories.

Israel had the opportunity to fulfill their job descriptions as priests to the nations because they were living among many other people groups within their land who worshipped many different gods, not unlike lot like Christians today in America.

We don’t have to think of the mission field as a place far away. The mission field has come to us.

The Israelites were living among many other “ites,” the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Ammonites, Hittites, the Amalekites, and the Amorites.

All these non-Jews had one thing in common – they all worshiped pagan gods and lived in morally deficient ways.  Some of them were known to sacrifice their children to their gods.

The Jewish people had an opportunity to influence the people around them. Joshua had issued a direct challenge to them in this regard. Had they lived up to their promise, perhaps there would have been many people more like Rahab.

Do you remember her? She was a prostitute that hid the promised land spies in her house. She had already heard of the God of Israel. She believed that the Israelites were capable of destroying her city and saving her and her family. She made the spies promise to save her and her family when they attacked the city. She made it clear that she believed in God.

When Matthew recorded the family tree of Jesus, he included Rahab as one of Jesus’ descendants. Typically, only men were listed when tracing a person’s genealogy.   We know that’s not fair leaving out the women, but it was a very male dominated world.  So when Matthew recognized Rahab, a woman, it is noteworthy.  He does so to point out her faith, and perhaps to show how people could be redeemed from their past.

Rahab became an exception. The people living around the Israelites began to influence them with the way they lived and worshiped more than Israel influenced the pagans.

In Judges chapter 2:11-12a, it says that after Joshua died, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them.”

Did you notice the title of my sermon? I have asked the question, “Are we living again in the time of the Judges?”

Many people have likened America to a promised land. Indeed, it is a land of plenty. We have always attributed America as a place that God shed his grace.

I want to be careful and not carry the analogy of comparing America to Israel too far. I think there is a lot of danger in thinking we are “God’s modern-day chosen people.”

However, I don’t think it’s out of line to wonder whether modern-day Christians have been influenced by the gods of our culture more than we have impacted the culture around us.

Too many of us have bowed down to the gods of our culture. We have changed our lives to fit the culture more than we have impacted the culture around us.

What might some of these gods be? Sports, sex, self, popularity, money, social media, substances, comfort, and political agendas that do not align with the gospel, or we have excused the morality of our politicians because their party claims to be more Christian than the other.

In the little film we saw this morning called, “The Great Realization,” it suggests that perhaps it has taken a virus to show us which gods we might have been worshipping.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1xW

Christians are not supposed to be like the Amish and become stuck in some time warp and refuse to change as culture changes around us.

However, when the changes of culture lead us away from God in our thoughts, ethics, speech, actions, and matters that involve justice and discrimination against people that are different from us, we cannot be the salt of the earth. Our light will not shine in the darkness.

The book of Judges gets its name from the leaders that God raised to help Israel out of their problems. These people were not like judges who decide court cases.

They were more like charismatic military leaders. The character of these people went from good to O.K. to bad to worse.

God was limited in his choices. Most of them had fatal character flaws.

Take Gideon as an example.

I grew up hearing about Gideon and his deep faith. We even have a group of men who distribute Bibles worldwide called Gideons. They take their name from this man in Judges.

As with judges Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah, Gideon appears on the scene because “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judges 6:1 NIV).

For seven years, Israel was controlled by the Midianites. After a while, the people had enough of the Midianites, and they begin to pray to God for help. God sent them Gideon.

Gideon is like the other judges. He has some great qualities, but he also had some fatal flaws.

In doing battle against the Midianites, Gideon demonstrated great faith.

God told Gideon to release any of his men that were afraid to fight, and 22,000 men went home.   Wow!  Talk about a bad day at the office.

“Honey, how was your day?”

“Well, I lost a few soldiers today.”

“You, did? How, many?”

“Just 22,000.”

If there was any good news in that, at least those he had left were all brave men. But imagine watching 22,000 of your fighting force abandon you in one day!

God still wanted Gideon to pare the group down even more. God told him to watch as the men drank water from a stream.

God instructed Gideon to select only those men that kept on their armor and held onto their swords when they went down to the river to drink.

Those who took off their shield, laid down their sword, and scooped up water with both hands should be sent home.

When Gideon counted, only 300 men were left to fight the Canaanites, whose numbers were in the thousands.

These brave men then carried out a bizarre plan of attack.

“He gave to each man a lamp, a pitcher, and a trumpet, and told the men what to do. When the lamp was lighted to place it inside the pitcher so that it could not be seen. He divided his men into three companies, and very quietly led them down the mountain in the middle of the night, and arranged them all in order around the camp of the Midianites.”

Then at one moment, three hundred men had shouted, and broke their pitchers, so that on every side, lights were shining. The men blew their trumpets with a mighty noise, and the Midianites were roused from sleep, to see enemies all around them, lights beaming and swords flashing, while everywhere the sharp sound of the trumpets was heard.

In the darkness, they were confused. The Midianites thought a great army surrounded them. They trampled each other down to death, and they ran from the Israelites. Their land was in the East, across the River Jordan, and as they fled in that direction, Gideon had people waiting for them to cut off their flight. Their army was destroyed.

After this, as long as Gideon lived, he ruled as a judge in Israel. The people wished him to make himself a king.

It says in chapter 8:22-23.

22After the battle with the Midianites, the Israelites said, “Gideon, you rescued us! Now we want you to be our king. Then after your death, your son and then your grandson will rule.”
23 “No,” Gideon replied, “I won’t be your king, and my son won’t be king either. Only the LORD is your ruler. (CEV)

It’s a good thing that Israel didn’t make Gideon king. As it turned out, he was a man who took revenge and murdered some of his people for not helping him during a battle.

Even though he knew that God was the one that should be their king, he still made an idol from the gold he won in his battles.

When he died, the people began to worship that idol and again started doing evil in God’s eyes.

Did you notice the title of the sermon? Are we living again in a time of the judges?

A lot of people know that God should be their king.

To put it another way, a lot of people know that God should determine their values, what is right from wrong, but instead, they continue to decide those things for themselves.

In Judges 17:6 and 21:25, it says, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

The book of Judges ends with these words.

The writer suggests that if they had a king, things would be different.

Of course, Gideon has already told the people the truth. “You don’t need a king. You have a king. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

But even Gideon ended up doing what was right in his own eyes.

We are living in a time where no person or group has a stronghold on moral authority.

Today there are examples of corruption, sexual indiscretions, mismanagement of money, ethical lapses, bigotry, and questionable lifestyles in every segment of our population.

We are skeptical about casting our allegiance behind any individual or group, lest we are left hugely disappointed.

We should be cautious about casting our blind allegiance behind any individual, group, or political party.  However, instead of firmly placing our total commitment with the Lord through his son Jesus, we have committed the sin that caused the great downward spiral of Israel during the 450 years of the judges.

We have decided to do what is right in our own eyes.

Doing what is right in our own eyes is the original sin.

But we have glorified it. We have celebrated it. We have made it stylish, popular, and trendy. Almost nothing is outside the boundaries of right and wrong now.

Every year the boundaries get stretched more and more. Each generation stretches them beyond what the previous generation found to be normal and acceptable. We are becoming numb. We are no longer shocked by what we hear, see, or read.

What our leaders say and do today would have shocked and appalled people just a generation ago, but now, we no longer hold them accountable, regardless of their political affiliation.

If you look around, it’s not difficult to see that we have a race issue in our country. You can trace it back to people deciding to do what right in their own eyes and not what is right in God’s eyes.

If you look around, you can that the poorest among us always get left behind when the going gets rough. Whenever there’s money out on the table, those who need it most are the last ones to get it if they get it at all. You can trace it back to people deciding to do what right in their own eyes and not what is right in God’s eyes.

If you look around, you can see that we care more about the idols we have created for ourselves than about the God who created us. Our actions tell the real story. It is because we are doing what is right in our own eyes.

In the book of Judges, only when the people suffered enough from their poor choices did they call on God to come and help them. Have we suffered enough?

The sad thing is I am afraid that as a nation, the answer to that may be “no.”

But as a person, you may have a different answer. You may have suffered enough. You may have realized that doing what is right in your eyes does not reap the rewards you thought you would be harvesting.

Why wait until you’ve suffered more before you surrender to God? Israel didn’t have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. You don’t either.

Out of his grace, God sent judges to help Israel.

Those he sent were as flawed, but God still used them.

Every one of us who bring the word of God to you is a sinner saved by grace. We are attempting to show that God can use us in some way, if we hear his voice and are willing to serve, just like He used Rahab.

Someone is listening today that’s been making most of your decisions by what you think is right or wrong rather than making them based on what God says is right or wrong.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but it leads to death.”

Why wait till the day that God judges you before discovering that you should have listened to God and not to yourself.

Today can be the day of salvation for you.

Why not commit yourself to the Lord today?  Come to him through his son Jesus Christ.

Come to Jesus in humility and say that you have been living life and making decisions based on what you believed to be right and wrong instead of living your life on God’s word.

Confess that to God, and ask the Lord to help you change your ways. The Lord will be gracious to you, forgive you, and help you on your journey of faith.

Photo Credit: https://www.grace-life.org/2020/02/gideon-mighty-warrior/