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Sunday, June 03, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Israel's Downward Spiral"

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“Israel’s Downward Spiral”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
June 3, 2012
Judges 2:6-3:11


Judges chapter 2 is like the second introduction to the book.

Two weeks ago, we read the first introduction that kind of came at it from Israel’s perspective, historically–they had unfinished business. This week, we really get God’s perspective on what went wrong in Israel.

What went wrong?

How did the nation of Israel spin out of control after the victories of the book of Joshua?

That’s what we’re learning about in these opening chapters.

In fact, chapter 2 is really a map of the whole book. It explains what is often called “The Cycle of the Judges.”

The re-occurring pattern of what went wrong with Israel over and over and over and over again during the period of the Judges.

So, in some ways, this is the most important chapter in the book because it tells us what is going on in the rest of the book.

If you don’t get this, you won’t get the rest of the book. So, listen up. This is important.

What we’re going to do is to work our way slowly through the story of chapter 2 verse 6 through chapter 3, verse 11.  And then we’ll make three simple applications to our lives today.

Okay?

Judges chapter 2, starting in verse 6, where the narrator backs up the film back to the end of Joshua again.

“After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. 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. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.”

The narrator has taken us back to the high point at the end of the book of Joshua.

Joshua has said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” And he has called everyone in Israel to do the same.

And they did. Until he died. And the others who were leader who had seen (v.7) “all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.”

This is the top! The mountain top!

And it’s all downhill from here.  V.10

“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.”

Uh oh.

They forgot.

A new generation stepped up and failed.

I didn’t intentionally plan for this message to fall on Graduation Sunday, but I see an application here for our grads.

Donavan, Abby, Mindy, Taylor, Dallas, you can’t rely on your parents’ faith.

We can’t rely on you living off of your parents’ faith.

You have to have faith in Christ for yourself or the church in the future is in trouble.

God does not have any grandchildren. He only has children.

It’s possible that the previous generation, Joshua and the other elders of Israel, had failed to teach the next generation who the LORD was.

But I doubt it. It just seems like the next generation wasn’t listening.

And when it was their turn to lead, they failed.

V.10 again.

“Another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”

That word for “know” is a very relational word. It doesn’t mean that they had never heard about the Lord. It means that they didn’t have a relationship with Him.

And they had no relationship with what the LORD had done for their people.

It didn’t matter to them.  That was ancient history. This is now.

In just a few minutes, we’re going to eat the Lord’s Supper together. And there is one major command that goes along with the Supper: REMEMBER.

Remember. That’s why were supposed to eat and drink it so often. To remember. To not forget.  Like this generation did.

And look what happened: Israel’s Downward Spiral. V.11

“Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.”  Stop there for a second.

Israel betrayed the LORD.

They fell into idolatry.

They not only forgot the LORD. They forsook the LORD. They walked away from Him. They abandoned Him. They switched their allegiances to false gods.

Now, why would they do that?

Why do you sin?
Why do I sin?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Sin is illogical.

Why would we abandon the God of the Universe, the God of the Bible, the God of Salvation?

And follow gods that are not God?

It doesn’t make sense. But we do it, don’t we?

Well, it does make some sense.

Because these gods named Baal and Ashtoroth are different from the LORD and more palatable in some ways.

They are visible instead of invisible. There are idols that we can see and keep an eye on.

And they promise results if we just do our part. Instead of trusting in a good God, these kinds of gods ask us to manipulate them, to control them, to get what we want from them by our actions. That’s not as good a deal as grace, but it feels more natural to us.

And these gods promised fertility. Baal was a god of storms and brought rain. And Ashtoroth, she was all about sexuality–there were temple prostitutes you could visit to get something going between Baal and his goddess girlfriend by getting something going yourself.

That would be highly attractive.

We saw last time that Israel should have driven out the Canaanites, but they didn’t.

And that left them there to entice them to follow their gods.

Thankfully, there are no idols in modern America now to entice Christians. Right?

Before you point at the idols, the false gods, of the culture around you, start by asking yourself the question, “What false deities am I particularly tempted to follow?”

Money?
Sex?
Popularity?
Security?
Pleasure?
Comfort?
Humor?
Fame?

Donavan, Abby, Mindy, Taylor, Dallas, there are going to be many many false gods that present themselves to you in life and beckon for you to follow them.

They will promise you big things.

And they will deliver for a while.  It will seem like they really are what they promise.

But it’s all a sham.

False gods enslave.

The real God gives a real freedom even as we serve Him.

But false gods all enslave us.

“What false deities am I particularly tempted to follow?”

Israel (v.13) forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

How do you think that made the LORD feel?

Does God have feelings?

Oh, yes, He does. God is a passionate God. V.12 says, “they provoked the LORD to anger.” 

V.14 says,“In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.”

Oh yes, God cares.

God is a jealous God. Not the green-eyed jealously of wanting something that is not yours but the red-hearted passion to possess what is rightfully your own.

And God brings consequences, judicial consequences on His people for their betrayal.

Just like He told them He would.  Did you catch that in verse 15?

“Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them.”

That’s what He had promised in the book of Deuteronomy. With obedience comes blessing. With disobedience comes danger.

And God always keeps His promises.

He is a faithful God. Faithful, even, to bring discipline.

And that left them in distress.

And then that jealous God shows compassion.

They don’t deserve it. They don’t always even repent to receive it.

God just takes pity on them and sends a deliverer. Verse 16.

“Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.”

Remember, we said last time that these “judges” were more like “deliverers” and rescuers, mini-saviors, not “judges” in black robes making pronouncements like we tend to think of them today.

“Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.”

But then it all started over again. V.17

“Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. [That’s strong language. That tells you how God feels about idolatry.] Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD's commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” Stop there.

Here is what we call the “The Cycle of the Judges.”

This what happened again and again and again and again during this period.

“The Israelites did evil.” They betrayed the Lord. They whored after other gods.

“The anger of God burned against them.”  God was jealous and brought the consequences.

“They cry to God for help.”  They don’t necessarily repent, but they groan. V.18 says “The LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.”

God cared about their groaning.

Are you groaning right now?

God cares about that. Even if you have earned your groans–God cares about that and wants to show you compassion.

God hears their cries.

“God sends a deliverer/judge/savior” and “peace follows.”

But did you see that the pattern gets worse?

We call this the cycle of the judges.

But it’s really the downward spiral of the judges.

We’re going to see that each story gets a little worse as the book goes on and eventually plunges into complete depravity.

V.19 again, “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” v.20

“Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, ‘Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.’

It’s test time.

Donavan, Abby, Mindy, Taylor, Dallas, your tests are over right?

I know that mine are!

But God tests hearts. He looks into our hearts to see if we will follow Him or walk away.

And it’s not good enough to say that we follow Him with our lips and walk away from Him with our feet.

So, this whole period of time was a test. V.23

“The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience [to show them what that is!]): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD's commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”

It’s a test. How’d they do?

They failed.

Again, and again, and again.

On a downward spiral.

Now, this can be depressing, but God is good, and there are several strong applications that we can take to heart for our own lives.

And I want to share three with you while looking at the story of the first judge: Othniel, verses 7 through 11.

Othniel, remember him?  Blair’s favorite judge?

He should be all of our favorite judge!  We know all about foolish Samson, and very little about godly Othniel.

Let’s fix that.

Othniel was a Judahite, adopted into the tribe of Judah. He was a family man, married to Caleb’s daughter, Acsah, a go-getter godly Israelite girl.

He was a part of the conquest under Joshua and had been successful. And he had to serve as one of Israel’s judges.

V.7

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.”

Sound familiar?

Here we are again.

What’s going to happen next?  V.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.”

This is one bad dude. His name means literally, “Darkness Double Evil.”

His parents must have been having a really bad day when he was born.

No, actually, this is probably Israel’s name for him.  Darkness Double Evil from Double Rivers (Aram Naharaim) which is probably Mesopotamia. This is a big bad dude that Israel had fallen for and lived under for 8 years.

What’s next?

V.9 “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.”

Notice those last words. “Who saved them.”

How did he do it? In the power of the Holy Spirit. V.10

“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. [Top of the cycle.] So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”

That’s how you do it! Othniel was the model judge.

We don’t have many details here, but what we really don’t have is anything negative about Othniel. He was a judge the way a judge should be.

It’s not going to be like that as the spiral goes downward.

Gideon, Jepthah, and that major disappointment Samson are not going to live up to the model of Othniel.

He was a deliverer!

Here are my three applications.

#1. STAY TRUE TO THE LORD.

That goes for our grads and it goes for all of us.

Stay true to the Lord. V.7, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and Asherahs.”

One of the major reasons for this book to be in our Bible is to remind us of the dangerous consequences of betraying and abandoning the Lord.

Don’t follow false gods. Don’t listen to them.

Laugh at their promises.

I just finished reading a book, a true story, about a man named Christopher Yuan who gave into the promises of homosexual promiscuity and illegal drugs.

And he was living large for some time.

But I kept thinking as I was reading it, “Can’t he see where this is all going?”

It took him to HIV positive and prison.

But he couldn’t see it. He was believing the lies of his false gods.

We need to laugh in the face of the lies of our false gods.

And not get taken in.

Stay true to the Lord. Stay faithful.

Don’t prostitute yourself with idols.

#2. REJOICE IN A JEALOUS AND COMPASSIONATE GOD.

Be thankful that God is both jealous and compassionate.

Perfectly so.

Imagine if God was not jealous.

If He didn’t care what happened to His people.

That would be so awful.

“Oh, I don’t care if they sin. I don’t care if they sleep around with other gods. Frankly, I don’t care what happens to them at all.”

Or if our God was not compassionate?

If He didn’t care that we were hurting, groaning.

“Well, they earned it. I gave them a chance, and they blew it, and I kind of like the sound of their crying.”

That’s not who our God is.

Our God is both perfectly jealous for the hearts of His people and perfectly compassionate over our suffering.

Give thanks for that.  That that is Who God truly is.

But the opposite is truly unthinkable.

God cares enough to bring danger and consequences and discipline into our lives when we walk away from Him.

And God cares enough to send a Savior when we need Him most.

#3. TRUST IN THE DELIVERER HE SENT.

Othniel was just a man.

A good man. A good deliverer. But just a man.

But Othniel was also a picture of the greatest deliverer, the greatest judge, the greatest savior that God would ever send.

The Spirit of the LORD came on him, and he saved them.

Can you think of a man upon whom the Spirit of the LORD came without measure and brought the ultimate in salvation?

This is His table.

A table of perfect jealousy and perfect compassion.

The Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

This is a table of justice and mercy.

If you are trusting in the Savior today and walking in fellowship with Him, you are invited to eat and drink this symbolic meal with us.

The bread stands for Jesus’ body broken out of jealousy and compassion for you.
The cup stands for Jesus’ blood poured out in love for His enemies, you and me.

If you are not yet a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, then let these plates pass you by and use this time to think about who God really is.

Not what you want Him to be. But Who He really is.

All of us need to contemplate that as we share this meal.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And that story I was telling you, about Christopher Yuan?

He was HIV positive and busted for selling drugs. He went to prison for years.

But his mom had come to Christ and raised up an army to pray for him.

And in prison, Christopher met Jesus Christ and trusted the deliverer God had sent.

And now? He’s a professor at Moody Bible Institute and a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ across the United States!

Stay true to the Lord.
Rejoice in His jealous and compassion.
Trust in the Deliverer, the Savior He sent.

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