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Judges 10:1-11:28: Forsaking God (Part 1) Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 May 2015

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The grace of God is not necessarily infinite.  Does that sound like heresy to you?  We just sang a song that includes these words: “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace/Freely bestowed on all who believe.” 1 So how can I say that God’s grace is not necessarily infinite?  Well, what about those who do not believe?  What does the Bible say will happen to those who continually reject Christ throughout their lives?  For them, the grace of God will not be infinite.  For those who turn from their sins and believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, grace will be infinite.  But not for those who will not believe.  There will be a limit to His grace in their lives.

Such truth is terribly tragic, but it is a warning that is repeated throughout Scripture.  And it is a warning that we see in the time of the judges.  The downward spiral of the book of Judges is rapidly spinning out of control.  After mentioning a couple of minor judges in chapter 10 (Tola and Jair) the author begins to tell the story of Jephthah, which runs to 12:7.  As has repeatedly noted, the cycle begins with Israel’s sin, leads to God giving them over to their enemies, their cries to God for help, and a judge being raised up to deliver them.  Yet, even though that cycle is present in the story of Jephthah, it is obvious that things are getting worse and not better for God’s people.  Their idolatry is worse, their captivity is worse, and their deliverer is worse.  In fact, the text never actually says that God raised up Jephthah, but it does appear that God was with him (see 11:29). 

We might be tempted to throw him under the bus, but the author of Hebrews includes him in his list of the men of faith (see Hebrews 11:32).  So then, it is hard to know what to do with him, which has been and will continue to be the case for some of the judges.  In our passage this morning, we see the extended introduction to this cycle (10:6-16), the threat of the Ammonites (10:17-18), the enlisting of Jephthah (11:1-11), and his first attempt at dealing with the Ammonites through diplomacy (11:12-28).  As we continue to see Israel’s forsaking of God at this point in their history, what can we learn about that?  What warnings are we given about taking the same approach?

When we forsake God, we cannot escape consequences

One lesson we learn from this story is that consequences follow decisions.  Israel believes that they can keep running to idols with no consequences.  God just keeps showing them mercy so why not consider that a license to sin?  We see this happening in verse 6.  Look at that with me.  The people are not just worshipping the Baals and the Ashtaroth, now they are worshipping the gods of Syria and the gods of Sidon and the gods of Moab and the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines.  They have given themselves over to idolatry.  They have a plurality of gods that they are serving, which means that they have forsaken the only true God. 

But there are consequences to such action.  Look at verses 7-9.  Once again God gives them over to their enemies.  Yet, notice that they are not just given over to the Ammonites, but to the Philistines as well.  The Ammonites dwelled to the East and the Philistines in the West.  Thus, Israel was surrounded by their enemies.  Also, the author notes that the Ammonites began to cross the Jordan and attack the people living west of the Jordan.  Needless to say, things were terrible for Israel at this point.  For eighteen years they were oppressed by these nations.  There are consequences for idolatry.  They are not always the same, but they are always there.

When we forsake God, we are left with worthless idols

Sin can seem so good at the time.  The Bible does not deny the pleasures that can be found in sin.  Rather, it just tells us the truth about such pleasures, namely that they are passing and brief.  You can enjoy sin for a season, but the pleasure never lasts.  It never satisfies.  At the end of the day, we are left with dust and ash.  The Bible repeatedly teaches us this lesson.

Israel learned this lesson when they cried out to God for help in the present situation.  Look at verses 10-14.  Yahweh reminds the people that they have been here before.  He has rescued them from one nation after another.  Yet, after the threat is over, they keep returning to idolatry.  So He says essentially: “If you want to follow after other gods, then let them save you.  You have made your bed and now you will have to lie in it.”  If people continue to choose idols over the One, True God, then the Lord will give them what they want.  Think about how this applies to us.  Do you want money?  Are you working hard to earn more and save more and have more?  Be careful, because it may be all you have in the end.  And it will not save you in the end.  Oh, it will bring comforts and pleasures in this life, but they will not last.  Will you be able to look to your money when you stand before the Lord?  All the money in the world will be useless then.  Jesus asks us: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26).  You can run after riches and wealth, you can run after the pleasures and comforts they bring, but there will be no profit in the end.  You cannot serve God and money because you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). 

Israel wanted to serve God and the other gods as well.  They wanted the favor of them all.  But the Lord was telling them that they had to choose.  And since they had repeatedly chosen the Baals and the Ashtaroth and the other gods, then they would have to cry out for them to save them in their time of need.  Look at how Israel responds in verses 15-16.  At first glance, this seems like genuine repentance.  But it does not last.  Notice they start with ‘do whatever seems best to you’ and the end with ‘only please deliver us this day.’  They were only coming to God to see what He could do for them in this terrible situation.  They would put away the others gods for a time if that would help smooth things over with Yahweh and get Him to help them out of the mess.  But they had shown repeatedly that they were not ready for single devotion to One God.

What is interesting in verse 16 is that the Lord is still compassionate toward His people.  They were still the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were still the ones called by His Name.  Thus, even though their repentance is insincere, He still has compassion and is at least impatient over the misery of Israel.  I don’t think this means we should imitate Israel and their phoney repentance.  Rather, I think it should cause us to worship God for His great compassion and mercy (which should actually lead to true repentance as we will see in a moment).

When we forsake God, we will not be saved by knowledge alone

The story of Jephthah begins when the Ammonites set up for war in Gilead.  The people need a leader to help them against these enemies.  At this point, the author introduces us to Jephthah.  Look at 11:1-3.  Not a great back-story for old Jephthah.  His mom was a prostitute (Happy Mother’s Day!), his brothers cut him out of the inheritance, and eventually he had to leave his own town and take up residence with worthless fellows.  Not a great start.  But he was a mighty warrior and the people of Gilead are desperate for just that.  So they ask him to lead them and he eventually agrees.  Look at verses 4-11.  From ugly beginnings, a judge has been found.

Jephthah’s first act as the leader in Gilead was one of diplomacy.  He thought that he could send a letter to the Ammonite King and avoid war, or perhaps at least delay it.  The King responds by telling Jephthah that he is only trying to get back what Israel took from his people in the first place (which is not exactly true historically but it sounds real good).  Then Jephthah launches into a detailed explanation of what ‘really happened.’  He explains that God had actually given the land to Israel because the former kings would not let them pass through to the Promised Land.  For the record, we should note that Jephthah’s fudges a bit on the historical record as well, but again, it sounds good, and he at least gets the majority of the facts straight.  To Jephthah’s credit, he does point to Yahweh as the one who gave Israel the land.  Look at verses 21-24.  Essentially Jephthah is saying: “Look you keep the land that your god gives you and we will keep the land that Yahweh has given us, deal?”  Of course the King rejects this offer and proceeds to make war on Israel.

What I simply want to point out from these verses is that knowledge was not enough to keep Israel faithful.  They knew what God had done for them in the past.  They knew that He had saved them from the Egyptians and the Amorites and Ammonites and the Philistines and all the rest (see 10:11-12).  Like Jephthah, they knew that He had given the land of Gilead to them by defeating the Moabites and the Amorites.  They knew all these facts.  They could tell you their history verbatim.  But even so, they kept running back to idols.  When our hearts have no affection for the Living God, then knowledge alone will not be enough to pull us away from our idols.  We don’t just need to know facts about God, we need to know Him and love Him.  Most people in our city can tell you that Jesus came and died on a cross for their sins.  They can tell you that He came back on the third Day and is coming again in the future.  They have knowledge about the gospel, the history of our salvation, but they lack affection.  Oh, they might make it to Church every now and then and tip their hat to Jesus, but their hearts keep returning to their idols.  Many are simply repeating the mistakes of Israel.

So what about you?  God gives you a serious warning about forsaking Him and running after idols in the book of Judges.  It is one of the overall themes of the entire book.  And it stands as a warning to us all.  If you forsake God, things will not go well for you.  You might be able to escape certain consequences, but you will not be able to escape them all.  You might enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, but it will pass and leave you with nothing.  You might have knowledge about what Jesus has done for you at the cross, but that knowledge alone will not be able to save you in the end.  The only way to end idolatry is to develop deep affection for the One, True God.  You must turn from your sins, really turn from them, and run hard after the One who gave Himself for you at the cross.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that the offer of mercy is infinite.  Do not think that giving yourself to sin will end well.  The Lord is merciful and His compassions are new every morning, for those who truly repent.  The book of Judges is warning us not to take His mercy for granted.  So how will you respond?  Amen.

1 taken from the hymn “Grace Greater than Our Sin” by Julia H. Johnston

.~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 May 2015 )

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