By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Lane Cove, NSW
From Judges 1-2, Joshua 23
25 October 2015
Thanks to the band for great music today, and to Darren and the staff for allowing me to speak today. Those regulars here know that I have been with Jews for Jesus for a few decades, since 1979 actually and you will get a chance to support that missionary organization today and my work in it particularly using those white cards inserted in your news sheet, or donate up the back at the book/ resource table in the hall.
Music and rhythm
I really like the music of church, in fact, I like a wide variety of music, and find myself tapping along on the back of a pew or the steering wheel of my car quite often. It’s the rhythm which I pattern. The book of Judges has a rhythm all its own. Let me give that to you right away so you can recognize it throughout the teaching series at church, or whenever you read the book.
The rhythm is
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.
I’m sure you will meet that rhythm again and again.
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, like I am today, I worry that you might 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 church staff have asked me to bat opener in this series on the book. Today then, we begin in learning this season of Israel’s history.
Removing the enemies: Military might
The book opens with military conquest. That should excite Marise Payne and Duntroon grads, and some of you historians. 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 piled 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.
Removing the enemies: Problem
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.” (.21)
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.
God wants to be in relationship with us and when we let the enemies live in the land, then their gods eventually become a snare and a trap. Look, I’m a golfer and I know a trap when I see one, and when I can, I avoid them at almost any cost.
So what is God saying? Get rid of the people who have foreign gods because if you don’t, your ball will fall into the snare and sand trap, into the golf water hazard, or in rugby into touch, you will fail. So the matter is not really one of obedience first, but rather faith. 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. Does that make sense? And how do we enter into relationship with the Almighty? By faith and faith alone.
Removing the enemies: Purpose
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.
I’m not saying 21st Century Australia is at all the same as 15th Century BCE Israel, but some lessons can be learned. Israel then was not allowed what we call multiculturalism. That was the beginning of woes in ancient Israel.
The danger was that Israel would imitate the nations around her. And by walking away from the Almighty, we would actually fail God’s promises, and God’s promises had never failed and never will (Josh. 23.14ff). We would comply with idolatrous nations and live their lives instead of ours. Isn’t this exactly what happened in chapter two?
An angel of the Lord shows up and reminds Israel to be separate from the seven nations in the land, and that God will keep His covenant. He tells Israel that it’s personal. How do we know it's personal? Look at the personal pronouns God uses in verse 1 and 2: I brought you up out of Egypt and I led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you,...you have not obeyed Me;
We did not listen to His voice.
Removing the enemies: Thorns in your sides
Then the angel uses a phrase you might have heard before in the Newer Testament. The phrase, “Thorns in your sides” is sometimes the phrase we hear 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!” (2 Cor. 12.7)
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 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. Therefore I conclude, in the same way, 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.
Chapter two verse 1, God’s longing is clear in the text. The angel of the Lord speaks and reminds them in terms of covenant: “I made a covenant with you and I will never break that covenant; you were to keep it; you were not to make a covenant with the other nations.” But what happened? We didn’t listen to him. The English text in our Bible says “obey,” but the Hebrew translates listen. The understanding is if you listen to God’s word, you will obey it.
The angel finished his commentary with the ‘thorns in your sides’ phrase and what was the result in Israel that day? Weeping. (.4) That’s why the town is called “Bochim” which is the Hebrew word for ‘weeping bitterly’ or ‘sobbing deeply.’ And I like that the word is not singular, but is written in the plural. Why? Because at least two are weeping; God and the Israelites. God joins us in our pains.
But even though that sobbing and the sacrifice that followed were genuine, and all Israel went home to their new land, after Joshua died, that sobbing turned disingenuous.
We read, “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” (2.11-12). The cycle and the rhythm of Judges begin again. Failure here is evident.
Removing the enemies: What do we learn?
1) God’s desire is for us to trust him, no matter what we see. Many often make the bulk of their study of the book of Judges into a mockery of the Jewish people, in our failures as followers of God to do just that. But the real story is the story behind the story, that throughout history, even this troubling history, God is ever reaching out to save us, to know us, to be in relationship with us. And He will do everything He can to ensure that we are brought into a place of decision. He may use enemies; He may use friends; He may use a Jewish man from the US, but He will get your attention, and His longing to be in relationship with you will be known by you. What you do with that longing…that’s up to you, isn’t it?
2) Victory is ours if we do trust him. He will cause us to walk in His ways and find delight in Him and in His plans. That’s the major reason to remove enemies. Throughout the book of Judges you will read of one military victory after another. I believe in our lives we can also have spiritual victory, if we win the battle of faith. The Centurion of Matthew chapter 8 is heralded by Yeshua as one whose faith outshone all the faith of all Israel. The Apostle John wrote, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5.4)
In my ministry with Jews for Jesus, the joy I have in seeing Jewish people come to faith in Messiah is unmatched. They can be the most righteous or the least righteous, the nicest or the most crooked, but when they listen to Henry David Thoreau or the Gospel itself, they win. Thoreau said, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”
3) The world, the flesh, and Satan, summed up as The Enemy, want us to allow for him, to hang out with him, to live a double life. Compromise is easy in these days, but if we are victorious in our walk with the Lord, then the only way Satan can beat us is to cause us to pretend, to live sneaky lives and if so, two things are sure. One, we will get caught eventually and two, the enemy will have won if we continue. Yeshua said, “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6.24) and the book of Judges is calling us to wholehearted, single-focused faith in the Lord Himself.
4) When we fail, God will deliver us, if we call on Him and trust him.
That’s what I see as the overarching principles and lessons of the book of Judges. Each week for the next while the pastoral team will unpack specifics about this bible book. And what we read in the book of Hebrews, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, And all these, having gained approval through their faith,” (Heb 11.32, 39)
Maybe next year before the Lane Cove Fair, we will re-read this sermon. And learn about going out to battle. We go to proclaim Jesus as Lord of Lane Cove and Lord of Heaven and earth. And we go, not in our own strength, but in that of our righteous Savior. We go because He went. And you can do that without a festival or a face-painting stall. Talk to your neighbour. Talk to your boss. Help kids at Scripture in school to get it. Tell people on the train and the bus. Let’s go there.
That’s what I tell my team of Jews for Jesus. We go to His own Jewish people because He did. We trust the Lord to give us people with whom to witness. And our victory is in trusting and knowing Him, and sharing Him with others. He loves them much more than we do. I think of Marvin, who got saved last month with me. His interest in God was minimal to say the least two months ago, but a weird vision in the night awoke him to the possibility of a real God, and within a month, this 32 year old Jewish man was not only professing Jesus as Lord, but I was baptizing him in Sandringham Beach with other believers watching. Or Naomi, the Israeli lawyer who while I was witnessing to her last year at a café in Quakers Hill gave her life to Yeshua and is living in His power today. 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. And let’s see what victories God will give us. Amen?