Text: Judges 3:7-11
‘If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.’
‘Yes, I realise she is very busy, but I really do need to see the doctor today.’
‘When will you ever learn?’
I wonder if you have ever felt like a broken record?
Well, you’re in good company. The book of Judges is God’s broken record. Its starting point is the conquest of the promised land under Joshua. By the end of the book, 200 years later, we’re on the verge of the period of the kings, the time of Saul and David. Throughout this period, God’s people found themselves in a repeated cycle of rebellion against God and rescue by God.
The first example of this recurring pattern of rebellion and rescue is found in our passage this morning. Let’s look at it together and see what’s in it for us.
Judges 3:7 ‘The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.’
There are several things that I’d like to draw out from this.
(a) Spiritual failure is more often a slow leak, than a burst tyre. It is usually gradual, rather than sudden. That’s certainly the case here. I don’t think that the Israelites just woke up one morning and said to one another, “Let’s forget the Lord our God and serve the Baals and the Asherah’s instead.” In fact, the roots of this rebellion go right back to the first verse of the first chapter of the book. ‘After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?”‘ And it’s clear from what follows that these Canaanites were not outside, but inside, the land. The conquest of the promised land by the Israelites had been incomplete. It was because the wickedness of the Canaanites was so extreme that the Israelites had been commanded to drive out them out of the land. But they had failed to finish the job. The Canaanites still hung around, and along with their idols they provided an ever-present threat and temptation to the people of God. This began a long, slow process of apostasy.
In fact, if you glance at ch 2:7,10 you will see that what is going on here is generational degeneration.
‘The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel… After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.’
I wonder if you agree that there is some truth in the following:-
To our forefathers, our faith was an experience.
To our fathers, our faith was a heritage.
To us, our faith is a convenience.
To our children, our faith is a nuisance.
We cannot assume that our children will simply absorb the faith of their parents. Each individual needs to be born anew. Each generation of the church needs its own experience of spiritual renewal, its own rekindling by the Holy Spirit, its own revival. Otherwise, we may well experience the same pattern that we see in Judges. A slow leak can lead to a flat tyre just certainly as a blowout; it’s just less obvious.
(b) Idolatry remains an ever-present temptation. Let me tell you something about these Baals and Asherahs.
The Baals were gods of the land.- and so of the sale of land, and of commerce generally.
The Baals, along with their wives, the Asherahs, were also fertility gods. It was when Mk & Mrs Baal had sex that the land became fertile and the harvest came. If you wanted a good harvest then you would encourage the gods by acts of ritual prostitution.
Furthermore, the Baals were gods to whom kings would look for economic prosperity and military success.
So, the Baals were gods of money, sex and power – a very modern trio. I don’t think we need to turn many pages of today’s newspaper to find evidence that these gods and their kin are still very much will us. The New Testament is clear the idolatry is an ever-present threat. And, of course, you don’t need a temple or a statue to worship an idol. Anything, or anyone, that takes the rightful place of the living God in your life has become an idol to you. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul describes those who have come to faith in Christ as those who have ‘turned from idols to serve the living and true God.’ And it’s no accident that the closing plea of John in his 1st epistle are, ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.’
(c) Don’t forget to remember. The Israelites had forgotten the Lord their God. Not forgotten in the sense of, “I’ve forgotten where I put my keys,” but forgotten in the sense of failing to call to mind who he is and what he has done; by forgetting that he had made a covenant with Abraham and he had been fulfilling that promise by delivering his people from Egypt and bringing them to the promised land.
Let us not forget to remember. One of the reasons we share in holy communion is to remember. 1 Cor 11:24 – “Do this in remembrance of me.’ If baptism marks the starting-point of our walk with Jesus, then the Lord’s supper gives regular stopping-points, where we pause, reflect, celebrate, and are refreshed and reminded. And we will need to be so reminded until he comes.
Well, sin has consequences. Israel’s rebellion led to retribution, Jud 3:8 ‘The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years.’
Eight long years of oppression. And finally, v9, the people cried out to the Lord. Whether this was a real heart-felt turning to the Lord we can’t be sure. What we do know is that God, who is rich in mercy and faithful to his covenant promises, sent a rescuer.
Jud 3:9-11 ‘But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.’
Onto the scene strides Othniel, the first of the 12 judges. He’s a man with a good pedigree, a good wife, a good piece of land, and a good military record.
But it is not Othniel, but God himself, who has the leading role in this rescue. It is God who is sinned against. It is God whose anger burns. It is God who sells them into the hands of a foreign king. It is God who hears their cry of anguish. It is God who raises up a rescuer and gives them rest.
God still rescues, restores, renews, revives his people. There is hope. Whatever we may have done in the past, God can rescue us. Our past may be a school, a hospital even. But it does not have to be a prison. God can bring rest to a troubled conscience. God can bring rest to a troubled church. God can bring rest to a troubled nations. He’s done it before. He can do it again.
So, God gave his people rest. But the blessing only lasted as long as the judge lived. Then the pattern repeated itself all over again. Moreover, the overall pattern in Judges is a downward spiral. Eventually, it became anarchy. Jud 17:6 ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’ So, perhaps having a monarchy like the other nations, would sort the problem out? But you know what happened under the kings. That era too would begin hopefully, with the great king David. But then the cycle would repeat itself again.
Judges, and indeed the whole of the OT, cries out for a faithful leader.
What none of the judges could achieve, nor any of the kings, has been achieved by Jesus. Raised up by God, filled with the Spirit of God, the Father has given him authority to judge, and his judgement is just.
In the 11th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews our attention is drawn to the great men and women of faith, including 4 of the 12 the judges. The conclusion is, Heb 11:39f ‘These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.’
Then he says, Heb 12:2 ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’
When faced with the temptation to forget God and run after idols, let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
When crying out for rescue, let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
He will not fail or disappoint.