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Judges 1:1-3:6: The Grace of God Delivers Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 March 2015

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Sometimes the moon and the stars shine brightest in the darkest, coldest nights.  I am fairly certain there is a scientific explanation for this, but it is hard not to notice how clear the nights become in the cold days of winter.  And we have had a few cold nights recently (not sure if you noticed).  Did you ever go outside one night and look at the stars?  After we finished up playing basketball on Thursday night, I was walking to my truck and was struck by how bright the moon and the stars were.  Granted, it was too cold to stand around star-gazing for very long, but the beauty was striking.  It drew you in and made you want to endure the cold at least for a moment.

The book of Judges deals with one of the darkest and coldest periods of Israelís history.  Most consider this to be the low point in the Old Testament, marked out by the final sentence in the book: In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (21:25).  As we study through the book of Judges we will see the terrible consequences of such an approach to life.  And be warned: it is not pretty.  We looked at Godís warnings to Israel if she did not obey in Leviticus 26 and we get to see the fulfillment of those warnings in the book of Judges.  Yet, the darkness of the peopleís rebellion and disobedience does not diminish the glory of Godís grace in this book.  In fact, the contrast helps us better understand just how gracious our God really is.  Instead of wiping them out and starting over, the Lord keeps showing them grace by delivering them.  This is the repeated message of the book of Judges.

The book begins with an extended introduction in 1:1-3:6.  The author prepares us for what will take place with the individual judges in chapters 3-16 by setting the stage in the beginning of his work.  This morning I want us to consider this introduction under three headings: the history, the conflict, and the grace of God.  Letís begin with the history.

The History: The unfinished conquest (1:-26)

As always, if you going to faithfully understand a book in the Old Testament, you have to begin by locating it in Israelís history.  Godís people are established in Genesis through the calling of Abraham and they are delivered from slavery to Egypt in the book of Exodus.  As we have seen Leviticus gives us teaching about God continuing to dwell with His people by forgiving their sinfulness through substitutionary sacrifice and the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy end with the people on the edge of Canaan, the Promised Land.  After Moses dies, the Lord raises up Joshua to lead the people in taking the land of Canaan.  And the book of Judges follows up that story with what happens after Joshua dies.  So look at verse 1a.  God had promised the people the land, He had given them the land through the conquests of Joshua, and now they are charged with driving out the remaining inhabitants of the land through Yahwehís help.  This is what was supposed to happen.  But what actually happens?

Things begin well.  Look at verses 1-4.  Judah and Simeon join together and defeat 10,000 Canaanites and Perizzites (another group of people living in the land).  The developments continue to look good at they take several different cities in the land: Jerusalem, Debir (where we are introduced to the first judge, Othniel who will look at next week), and other cities in Judahís allotted territory.  But we begin to see a problem in verses 19-21.  Look at those with me.  You might be thinking: ĎWhatís the big deal, so they didnít drive out the guys with the iron chariots, why does that matter?í  The answer is found in Godís instructions to Israel concerning the inhabitants of the land.  He promised Israel that He would give the land to them and He concluded that promise with these words: I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you.  You shall make no covenant with them and their gods.  They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you (Exodus 23:31-33).  It is this command that leads to the conflict.

The Conflict: The disobedience of the people (1:27-2:15)

After hearing Godís command concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, it is not difficult to see the conflict in 1:27-36.  Over and over again in these verses we see that Israel did not in fact drive the people out of the land.  Look at verse 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34.  The author goes by the individual tribes and tells us of Israelís failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land.  By the time he gets to the tribe of Dan we see that they did not drive out the Amorites at all and were in fact driven from their land. 

The Lord confronts the people in 2:1-5.  Look at those verses with me.  The messenger of the Lord makes it plain that Israel has failed to do what the Lord had commanded them.  And because of this we see that the Lord will be faithful to His warning: for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you (Exodus 23:33).  He tells them here: their gods shall be a snare to you (v. 3).  The Lord told them what would happen if they did not drive out the Canaanites and now they will see the fulfillment of that warning. 

The people weep when they hear what the Lord says, but is their weeping sincere?  The next section answers for us.  Look at 2:6-10.  Joshua knew the Lord and he witnessed the Lord driving out the people of Canaan.  The elders who were with him and outlived him knew the Lord and they witnessed Godís great work of giving the land to the people.  But when they all died, there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.  What a terrible, heart-breaking verse.  But it gets worse.  Look at 2:11-15.  These new generations gave themselves over to the gods of the land.  They abandoned Yahweh and crawled into bed with the Baals and the Ashtaroth.  These were gods of fertility who were supposed to make the crops grow and the wine flow.  They were Ďworshippedí through intercourse with the temple prostitutes.  It was as ugly as it sounds.  And it is not hard to imagine the snare and the trap that such Ďreligious practicesí held over the people of Israel.  Thus, the Lordís anger and jealousy was kindled against the people.  And they were in terrible distress.  The generations of Israel who came after the death of Joshua forgot the Lord, but He did not forget them.

The Grace of God: He raises up deliverers (2:16-3:6)

We might be tempted to think that such apostasy would be the end of Israel, but we would be wrong.  Look at 2:16.  We see the grace of God toward Israel shining bright in this verse.  Every judge, or deliverer, that we look at in the coming weeks was raised up by God to save the people from their enemies.  As we will see, they are not perfect people.  They are not the ultimate Deliverer of Israel.  But they are evidence of Godís amazing grace toward the people.  Yes, the Lord was righteously angry with the people for their disobedience in worshipping other gods.  Yes, He will give them over to punishments at times to bring them back.  But we cannot deny the grace of God in all of this.  One of my commentatorís notes: ďHere is the fundamental miracle of the Bible: that the God who rightly casts us down to the ground should--without reasons--stoop to lift us up.Ē  We must not miss this miracle of grace in the book of Judges.

The author tells us again why grace was so necessary in 2:17-23.  This section outlines for us what has been called the downward spiral of sin in the book of Judges.  Look at those verses with me.  The cycle begins with the people going their own way and disobeying God.  Then God gives them over to their enemies as punishment.  Next the people cry out for God to save them.  Finally, God raises up a judge to deliver the people from their slavery.  And then it starts over again with the people returning to their sinful ways.  As the cycle repeats, the sin gets worse and worse, but God keeps raising up judges to save them. 

Why did God keep showing them grace? In one sense, God was doing this to test Israel.  Look at 3:1-2.  God was testing these generations to see if they would turn and follow Him and also to teach them war.  You could also argue that God was showing them grace because of His covenant with Abraham.  And also we know that God was showing them grace because He is a graceful and loving God towards His people.

But all of this points to an even greater reason why God kept showing Israel grace during the period of the judges: He was moving His plan forward to send us the ultimate Deliverer, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Jesus is the Judge and Deliverer who would come to save His people from all their enemies, namely sin, Satan, and death.  Through His perfect life and His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Godís people can be saved.  In Judges we see the absolute necessity of such a salvation due to the sin of humanity and we see the pattern of God graciously sending a Deliverer to do what His people could not do by themselves.  God keeps raising up deliverers because He is preparing the world for Christ, the great Deliverer.

So then, how should you respond?  If you have never turned from your sin and trusted in Christ, then let me plead with you to do so today.  Christ is your deliverer.  He can save you from your sins against God.  If you feel trapped by the cycles of your own sin, then I have good news for you: Christ can set you free!  Through the power of the Holy Spirit you can have victory over your sin.  So trust in Him today as Savior and Lord.  To the believer, I just want to encourage you again with this pattern of Godís grace in the book of Judges.  Not so that you can keep returning to your sin, but so you can know that God is a God of grace.  You can confess your sin to Him and to others knowing that He will meet you with mercy.  And you have the promise that your battle with sin is not moving downward but upward.  Every step you take is a step closer to your glorification.  So fight against your sin with hope.  Hope in Godís grace when you fail.  And hope in the final victory that will come when our Deliverer returns.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 12 March 2015 )

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