The rhythm of the book of Judges
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
From Judges 1-2
2 June 2014
When I think about Bible books that I like to teach in new situations, I always prefer John or Genesis, Proverbs or Revelation, you know, where God is active and teaching and helping us who want to learn about His plans. The narratives like John or Genesis where the storyline preaches even without much work from me and Revelation because it’s about so much of God and us together. Proverbs because it’s so informational and great in short thoughts to help us get through the days. But if there is a book I usually avoid it’s Judges. You see, Judges is not only about good judges and we will study them over the next fortnight, but it’s also about disobedient and ever-stubborn Israel.
If I teach that to Jewish people I worry that they will think all I ever talk about is sin, and not about God’s faithfulness or such. If I teach that to Gentiles, I worry that they will get an attitude of “Those stupid Jews who never get it right.” Anti-Semitism doesn’t need me to stoke its flames.
That said, the book of Judges IS in the Bible and IS useful and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3.16). So I will go there. And especially because the Russian-speaking and Moscow staff have entitled this 21st Moscow campaign, “The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” So we have to take our lessons from the book where Gideon shows us much about God. In fact, Gideon is mentioned in over 100 verses, way more than anyone else in the whole book. And we will get to him and lessons learned from him tomorrow and two more subsequent days.
But today we begin in learning this cycle of Israel’s history.
The book opens with military conquest. That should excite Russian historians. I read much about the history of this country before I came here. You must know that as a child I thought of Russia as our enemy, and thus I’m actually in enemy territory. That’s uncomfortable for many people. This is of course highlighted to me by my lack of ability to read metro subway signs and to discuss anything with almost anyone out on the streets. But I have two more weeks here. We’ll see.
So Israel’s military victories should give us reason to rejoice in God and to honor Him as God our Saviour. We should memorialize our victories with stones and rocks, with trumpets and loud praises. And we should have completed our victories across the country, but if you read the text carefully, you will see some of these things missing.
In chapter one we conquered the enemies around us: Canaanites, Perizzites (v. 1-20) from Dan to Beersheba, including Gaza and Jerusalem. Amazing and quick and powerful overcoming. God was with the Jewish people. (.18) Then the words drop like cannonballs on our text, “But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
Living with the enemy was not God’s plan and that allowance, that permission, that disobedience would haunt Israel then, and honestly, to this day. (1.21-36) And the problem is like we see in other Bible stories, like Saul and Agag and the Amalekites, like Eve and a little disobedience, like Ananias and Sapphira, is that a little disobedience is a lot of trouble to the person then and to the people of God in the future. And the problem is not one of obedience first. It’s a matter of faith in God. If God said something, if He tells me something to do, then I must first believe Him and then go to do it. Disobedience is foremost an unbelief issue. Amen?
Why did God want us to remove the Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, and all the other nations in the land of Promise? The idolatrous peoples of the land had heard about the Jews, and about their escape from Egypt. They could have turned to the Almighty for forgiveness, but did not. They chose to live godlessly and the Lord knew that if Israel had opportunity to stay with these nations that eventually even the Jews would turn away from Him. That was not good on so many levels and God’s plan was about keeping His people with Him, and thus away from the enemy nations.
The danger is that Israel would imitate the nations around her. And by walking away from the Almighty, we would actually fail God’s promises, thus we would be the tail and not the head. We would comply with idolatrous nations and live their lives instead of ours. Look what happened in chapter two.
An angel of the Lord shows up and reminds Israel to be separate from the 7 nations in the land, and that God will keep His covenant. He tells Israel that it’s personal.
We did not listen to His voice. More on this tomorrow with Gideon.
Then the angel uses a phrase you might have heard before in the Newer Testament. “Thorns in your sides” is sometimes the phrase attributed to the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself!
You may have been taught that the problem Paul had was something about blindness or weak eyes. You may have heard that this thorn in the flesh was something physical. But the phrase is a clear reference (to me) that is about people. Consider the three times the phrase is used in the Older Testament.
Num. 33.55 ‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live.
Josh. 23.13 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 and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.
Judg. 2.3 “Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”
Here we see God’s warning to the Jewish people in Moses’ day, in Joshua’s day and now told us by the angel of the Lord, that if we don’t trust God, and don’t remove the people from the land, that they, people, they will become like thorns in our sides. And so Paul had people who followed after him, centuries later, who told false gospels, who taught the people wrong things about Yeshua, legalizers, people who insisted that the people needed more than faith to find forgiveness. The thorns in Paul’s sides were people who taught wrong information about God.
OK, back to our story.
There is a pattern in the book of Judges which you must see. Read chapter 2 later, but for now, here is the cycle:
1) Israel is disobedient
2) Israel cries out for help
3) God delivers us from our enemies by means of available men and women
4) We forget God and fall into sin again
Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers. 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; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways. (2.11-19)
What do we learn then from today’s lesson?
1) God’s desire is for us to trust him, no matter what we see
2) Victory is ours if we do trust him
3) The enemy wants us to allow for him, to hang out with him, to live a double life
4) When we fail, God will deliver us, if we call on Him and trust him
So today we go out to battle. We go to claim souls for Yeshua. We go to proclaim Messiah Lord of Moscow and Lord of Heaven and earth. And we go, not in our own strength, but in our righteous Savior. We go because He went. We go to our Jewish people because He came to His own. We trust the Lord to give us people with whom to witness. And our victory is in knowing Him, and sharing Him with others. He loves them much more than we do. Let us go in His name, no matter the cost, no matter the false teachers and other thorns out there. Let us go to proclaim Yeshua, Lord of all. Amen?