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Sunday, September 02, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “How Low Can You Go? (Part One)"

“How Low Can You Go?  Part One”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
September 2, 2012
Judges 17:1-18:31

When I started this series of sermons, I seriously considered skipping these last 5 chapters of the book–they are that depressing, that dark.

But, they are God’s holy Word.  And I believe I would be doing you a disservice by not preaching them for you.

2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteous, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to be thoroughly equipped for every good work, and I want you to be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So, we will wade into these last five chapters in two last sermons on the book of Judges.

And here’s our title for them, “How Low Can You Go?”

Just how low can you go?

Our series has been titled, “Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges,” and we have watched as Israel has gone from the heights of joy in the victory of the book of Joshua to the valleys of defeat and disobedience and destruction in the book of Judges.

Remember this chart?

The Israelites did evil. The anger of God burned against them and He gave them over to their foes. They cry to God for help. God sends a deliverer/a judge: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah & Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. And then peace followed.

And the cycle didn’t just go around, it went down. Israel got worse and worse. Sometimes, they didn’t even cry out for help. The judges that were raised up went down and  down in quality, as well.  Samson seemed to be the worst, the bottom of the barrel.

Well what do you think would happen if the LORD did not send a judge?

What do you think would happen if the LORD did not intervene?

These last five chapters answer that question.

How low can you go?

There are no judges, no deliverers, in chapters 17 through 21.

No good guys. No white hats.

Things get worse, and they don’t get better.

There is no cycle upwards, just a downward spiral to the bottom.

This week, we’ll look at the story in chapters 17 and 18. And then next week the story in chapters 19-21.

I need to warn you that next week’s sermon will have to be rated PG-13 because of its subject matter.

I will be very careful with it, but merely reading the text of Scripture includes terrible acts of sex and violence.  I will be very careful with how I present it, but parents especially need to know that and take whatever precautions you feel necessary.

This is the dark bottom of the book.

It is ugly, and intentionally so.

Because these chapters demonstrate how low we go when God does not intervene with His grace.

I’m going to point out four lessons we can learn from chapters 17 and 18 this morning, and the first one is this:

#1. WHEN LEFT ALONE, WE SINK TO THE BOTTOM.

When people are left to our own devices, our own nature, our own approach to life, we naturally sink to the bottom.

We are depraved.

Humans are sinners by nature and by choice.

And we see this in chapters 17 and 18.

Judges chapter 17, verse 1.

“Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim said to his mother, ‘The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse–I have that silver with me; I took it.’ Then his mother said, ‘The LORD bless you, my son!’”

Now, you have to understand that we’re going to be shaking our heads in disbelief for the next two Sundays.

It’s already started here.

A man named Micah from the north, the hill country of Ephraim has stolen a great deal of money: 1100 shekels of silver. That’s same great amount that the Philistines had offered to Delilah.

He had stolen this money from his mom.

And he didn’t feel guilty about it until he heard his mom utter a curse on whoever stole it. Then he confessed.

He’s scared of that curse, apparently.

And his mom immediately forgives him and utters a quick blessing in the name of the LORD. “The LORD bless you, my son!”

Now, before we think that she’s an amazingly godly woman to forgive and bless like this, we need to read on. V.3

“When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, ‘I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you.’”

[Huh?  How many of the 10 commandments have broken so far?  Apparently, the #1 No other gods, #2 no graven images, #3 the Lord’s name in vain, #5 honor your father and mother, #7 no stealing and #10 no coveting. And here’s #9 a lie. We’re on 3 verses in!  V.4]

“So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah's house. [200 shekels? What did she do with the other 900?]

Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Wow. That’s a lot of rule breaking right there. These are Israelites? They act like Canaanites!

Micah makes a shrine and installs his own son as priest. He has a house full of idols.

He steals. His mom lies. What a bunch of mixed up people!

This is what happens when God lifts His hand and no longer intervenes.

This is what happens when we are left alone. We sink to the bottom.

Verse 6 is a key verse. It’s going to be echoed 3 more times in the next 5 chapters.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Or the King James Version, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Everyone is a law unto themselves.
Everyone did what they felt like.
Everyone did what they thought was right by their own ideas.
Everyone did what they could get away with.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

And they sunk to the bottom.

I recently skimmed through a parenting book that argued that children were basically angels. That children are fundamentally good.

That people are born good.  If they do bad things, it is a product of bad teaching, bad environment, and being mistreated.

But that children are fundamentally good.

Now, God has given all of us common grace and we are not as bad as we could be.

But the Bible presents a very different picture of what we are like naturally.

We are naturally depraved.

We are natural born sinners.

And if we are left alone, we sink to the bottom.

Many of us had to read The Lord of the Flies back in high school. I hated that book.

I thought that it would be like Swiss Family Robinson!  Those boys get stranded on a island and have to fend for themselves, and they would rise to the occasion and figure out a way to defend themselves and eke out a living and maybe escape the island.

But what happens?  They form into, basically, tribes or gangs and they end up killing one of them out of the badness of their hearts.

And that’s what it is, the badness of their hearts.

Christianity teaches that people are sinners.  When we are left alone, we sink to the bottom.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Micah hasn’t hit the bottom yet. V.7

“A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim. Micah asked him, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘I'm a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,’ he said, ‘and I'm looking for a place to stay.’ Then Micah said to him, ‘Live with me and be my father and priest, and I'll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.’ So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.’”

What in the world?!

Now, if we hadn’t gone through Genesis to Joshua, this wouldn’t seem so strange, but everything about it is wrong.  Everything.

Why is this Levite not living in a Levitical city?
Why is he a drifter and not doing Levitical duty like we learned about back in Numbers?
Why does Micah think that you can hire a personal priest? That’s totally against the law.
Why does he say, “Be my father” and then treat him like a son?
Why in the world does Micah think that the LORD will bless him now that he’s got a bona fide Levite on the payroll?

Because he has ignored God’s Word. That’s why.
He uses the name of the Lord, but he doesn’t know the Lord, at all.

Beware of people who use the name of the Lord, but don’t really know Him at all.

Beware of being a person who uses the name of the Lord but doesn’t really know Him at all.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Even using the name of the Lord.

Now, that foolish story sets the stage for the next story, the story of the Danites. Chapter 18.

“In those days Israel had no king. [There it is again. That’s important. We’ll come back to that.] And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Now, stop there for a second.

That sounds okay, but we should know by now that it isn’t.

Was Dan given an allotment of land?

Yes. Joshua chapter 19.

Then why did they not come into an inheritance?

Do you remember chapter 1 of Judges, a message we called “Unfinished Business?”

They failed to take the territory that God had given them.

They didn’t believe. They didn’t obey. They didn’t take possession of their own land.

That’s what’s got them in this predicament. V.2

“So the Danites sent five warriors from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all their clans. They told them, ‘Go, explore the land.’ The men entered the hill country of Ephraim [they headed north, and guess what they found?] and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night. When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite [we don’t know how]; so they turned in there and asked him, ‘Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?’

He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, ‘He has hired me and I am his priest.’

Then they said to him, ‘Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.’ [What should they be doing? They should be putting these idolatrous Israelites to the sword, not asking them for prayer!]

The priest answered them, ‘Go in peace. Your journey has the LORD's approval.’

So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, unsuspecting and secure. [Easy pickings.] And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else. [No one to come to their aid.]

When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers asked them, ‘How did you find things?’ They answered, ‘Come on, let's attack them! We have seen that the land is very good. Aren't you going to do something? Don't hesitate to go there and take it over.  When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.’ [Except for God’s approval!]

Remember, “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

When left alone, we sink to the bottom.

V.16 “Then six hundred men from the clan of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan to this day.

From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah's house. [Surprise, surprise!]

Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their brothers, ‘Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol? Now you know what to do.’

So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah's place and greeted him.

The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance to the gate. The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance to the gate.

When these men went into Micah's house and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol, the priest said to them, ‘What are you doing?’ They answered him, ‘Be quiet! [Shut up!] Don't say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household?’

Then the priest was glad. He took the ephod, the other household gods and the carved image and went along with the people. [He got a promotion! “Wahoo! I’m moving up!”]

Why not?  Why be loyal if you’re going to do everything else wrong?

“Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left. When they had gone some distance from Micah's house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, ‘What's the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?’”

He replied, ‘You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, 'What's the matter with you?'’

The Danites answered, ‘Don't argue with us, or some hot-tempered men will attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.’ So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home.”

Do you see how nothing is right in this story?

Micah stole from his mother. Now the Danites have stolen from him.

Micah hired a personal priest. Now the Danites have stolen him, too.

There is no good guy in the story.  And God is strangely silent for verse after verse.

When left alone, we sink to the bottom.

And our idols are no help.

Lesson #2 today?

#2. IDOLS ARE USELESS.

My favorite verse in this story is verse 24.  It is so pitiful.

Micah says, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have?” Oh, poor Micah!

What kind of god is one that you can make on your own?

What kind of god is one that you can have stolen from you?

What kind of god is that?

It’s really no god at all.

Idols are useless.

So why do we love them so much?

Why do we manufacture counterfeit gods? Substitute gods?

Idols are very attractive.

They make big promises. They are controllable, unlike the real God.

You can keep your eye on them, unlike the real God.

But they can’t keep their promises. Like the real God does.

They are ultimately, useless things.

What are your favorite idols?

I’ve been trying to put to death one of mine–uncontrolled eating.

I love the pleasure of eating more than I need to eat.

And I have loved it too much.

I’m fighting back now, and I’ve lost 7 pounds so far in faith.

What idols do you love that need to be thrown away?

Idols are useless. They are only good for burning.

We need a God that can’t be made.

We need a God that you cannot steal.

We need the real thing.

And if we don’t have Him, we sink to the bottom.

What do you think is going to happen next?

Do you think the Danites will succeed?

Without looking, let’s take a show of hands. Do you think the Danite’s mission is going to succeed? Raise your hand for yes. Raise your hand for no.

Let’s see. V.27

“Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob. The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. They named it Dan after their forefather Dan, who was born to Israel–though the city used to be called Laish. There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. They continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.”

They were successful.

They took the idols and the priest, the good luck charms, and they successfully took over the town of Laish and renamed it “Dan.”
And they lived there a long time.

Here’s a lesson to draw from that.

#3. SUCCESS CAN BE DECEPTIVE.

Micah was successful for a very long time.

The Danites made a plan and carried it off. They were successful for a very long time.

Just because someone is successful does not mean that they are being blessed by God.

Success is no certain indicator of blessing or divine approval.

I think that American evangelicals need to remember that.

We can be blinded by success stories and think that they prove that God is saying this or that regardless of what the Bible says.

Including our own success stories.

Just because my business is thriving doesn’t mean that I am experiencing God’s blessing and approval.

Just because I get the most votes or am the most popular, does not mean that God is saying that I’m the best or that I’m righteous or that I’m following the right path.

These folks were at the bottom of the barrel and they were being successful.

Success does not prove anything.  It can be very deceptive.

What’s important is to see how our behavior matches up to God’s standard and how we put our faith and trust in the Lord and not in idols.

Not how well things go.

For example, if last Saturday, we held a gospel car cruise and it had rained, and two cars had crashed and a kid had run a key across a paint-job, but we did everything we could do in faith with the best of our wisdom and tried to be obedient to the Lord, God would have been pleased.

And we might not have known it.  We might have taken the “failures” as a sign of God’s disapproval.

Or we might look back at last week’s successful cruise and pat ourselves on the back. “Boy, our church is the greatest. We are sure good people. Look what we did for God. God sure is lucky to have us on His team! And the success proves it.”

Success is deceptive. We need to gauge God’s approval, but what God says, not by earthly standards of success.

For example, if Mitt Romney is elected President in November, it will not mean that God is now setting His approval on Mormonism, a false religion.

Success is no certain indicator of blessing.

That’s hard for us to get, but it’s the Bible’s teaching. Job was a success and that’s why he was attacked.

Asaph’s enemies were successful, and that’s why Asaph envied them. They were evil and successful.

Success is deceptive. We need to gauge God’s approval, but what God says, not by earthly standards of success.

Of course, we know that all earthly success of evil is just temporary.  God will eventually, in His timing, and forever bring justice and reward the good and punish the bad.

But, it won’t always obvious until then.

Did you notice that the writer of Judges waited until the end of the story to drop the name of the Levite?

It’s like the punchline in verse 30.

“There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land.”

The grandson of great Moses was a false priest.

How low can you go?

What does all of this prove?

Lesson #4. WE NEED A KING TO SAVE US.

When we are left on our own, we sink to the bottom.

And we need someone to raise us up out of it.

Chapter 19, verse 1. There it is again.

“In those days Israel had no king.”

Now, of course, they didn’t need a half-hearted king like Saul. Or a polygamous king like Solomon. Or an evil king like Ahab or Mannessah.”

But they needed a covenant keeping king.

One who would lead them like the judges were supposed to do.

One who would take them up out of idolatry.

One who would establish the Law as the real law of the land.

One who would trust God and do what He says.

They needed king!

And they didn’t have one.

And we need a king.

And we have one, in Jesus Christ.

We need a king to save us from ourselves.

And that’s what Jesus did.

And our King is like no other king ever was.

Our King doesn’t just have people serve Him. He served His subjects by living a perfect life as an example for us, teaching us the way of His kingdom, and then dying for us–the King in our place–and coming back to life to give us life.

Worship at the Lord’s Table

And it is that king we celebrate at this table.

Left to our own devices, we sink to the bottom.

But God has given us His Son to reach down into the miry pit and pick us up and place our feet on a rock.

Left to our own self, we turn everything upside down.

But God has given us a King to make everything right side up.

Left to our own self, we trust in idols and earthly ideas of success.

But God has given us a King who topples idols and gives us a humble and right view of the world.

God has given us King Jesus, and we celebrate His death and resurrection now.

--------------------------------------

Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Ehud
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
The Weakness of Samson: Part One
The Weakness of Samson: Part Two

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