Beloved congregation of the Lord, the book of judges is

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THE LORD HUMBLES ISRAEL FOR THEIR
REPEATED SIN.
Judges 6: 1 – 12
Sermon by:
Rev. E. Moerdyk
Published by the
PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE
OF THE
FREE REFORMED CHURCHES OF NORTH AMERICA.
( OCTOBER 2004)
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LITURGY:
Votum
Psalter 299: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7
Law of God
Psalter 69
Scripture Reading: Joshua 23: 6 – 16,
Judges 2: 6 – 19
Text: Judges 6: 1 – 12
Congregational Prayer
Offering
Psalter 213: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 15
Sermon
Psalter 293
Thanksgiving Prayer
Psalter 261
Benediction
Doxology: Psalter 410
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Beloved congregation of the Lord, the book of judges is for most of us on the one hand a
very exciting book, and on the other hand a very strange book. It is exciting because it contains
stories like the one about the left-handed Ehud, Gideon and his band of 300, and Samson who is
all by himself as strong as an army and who as a single man sends the Philistines running for
their lives as soon as he shows up. But at the same time this book is strange, because these same
men sometimes do such repulsive and sinful things. Samson dallies with prostitutes. Gideon
thrashes the elders of a village of Israel with thorns. The book can be so primitive, so violent,
and so strange that at a certain point you begin to ask yourself the question, can this be right?
When you see the blood flowing, you begin to ask yourself, can God allow such things to happen
and even use such methods and men to rescue his people? I can remember as a child hearing my
father read the OT stories from judges, and closing the Bible with the remark – man what a lot of
bloodshed. Maybe some of you have read stories like this to your children, and were then faced
with the embarrassing question, why dad, why did God allow this?
So what should we do with this puzzling book of the bible? Unfortunately many people
respond to this difficulty with the attitude of ‘if we just study the NT epistles long enough,
maybe it will go away.’ In doing so however we miss out on a book that has a very rich message
for the church of today. It is always at our peril that we ignore any part of the Bible, because as
we read in I Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be
perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This is also true of the book of Judges. The
book of judges has relevant a message of warning about how apostasy or forsaking God begins
and what fruit it bears. It has a message of comfort that sparkles with the faithfulness of God.
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You see, in a certain sense God wants us to be repulsed by the message of the book of
Judges. We are supposed to be disgusted and fed up. The book begins on a high note, and ends
on a low note, on purpose. It is not just a set of stories with a repeating pattern, but it is a
downward spiral into the gutter. The early judges are good men, but they become less and less
praiseworthy as the book continues. By the end of the book the night of human sin gets darker
and darker. You begin to say to yourself, I don’t know if this whole Judges thing is such a good
idea. Things can’t go on like this.
That is exactly where the Holy Spirit wants to bring you as you read this book. The
theme of the book is that every man did what was right in his own eyes. The application that the
book makes is – this is what life in Israel is like when there is no king, when every man is his
own boss. The book of Judges clamors for a king – not because God is not powerful enough to
protect Israel, but because the people are so very sinful that they continually earn God’s
judgements. The book calls for a king not to replace God, but a king who represents God. The
people of God need not just a judge who comes and goes after a few years, but a king who
permanently rules in the name of God, a king who can break the power of sin. That is the light at
the end of the tunnel of darkness – God’s king who can save sinners.
We will look at how this unfolds in the section of Judges that deals with Gideon.
Theme: The Lord humbles Israel for their repeated sin
I.
He delivers them into the hands of the Midianites
II.
He sends a prophet to rebuke them
III.
He comes to them through His angel
Congregation, the history of Israel in the times of Gideon begins with words that become
a familiar refrain if you read the book of judges. “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight
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of the Lord.” You see right away in these words that God is judging Israel’s behavior. There are
many today who do not like the idea of judgement. In fact, to many people judging someone is
the worst thing you can do. One of the worst accusations in their minds is – you are judging me.
Why do they object to judging? Because they are of the opinion that it is a virtue for every man
to do what is right in his own eyes. Things in Israel were no different in the time of our text, for
we read in several places in the book of Judges that every man did what was right in his own
eyes. It was the motto of the times if you will. This goes to show that the writer in Ecclesiastes
was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun – this part of our text could have
been written yesterday.
But now how does God respond to such a view of life? God will have none of it. We
read that Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord. What they thought about their own actions was
irrelevant to God. He is the one who determines what is right, and what is wrong, what is good,
and what is evil. God judges men, and He judges based on His divine opinions and laws.
What was it then that Israel did that God evaluated as evil? The verse of our text does
not say. To understand this, we need to back up in the book of Judges, to the words of chapter 2
that were part of our scripture reading this morning. We read in verses 11-13 of chapter 2 that
Israel forsook the Lord to serve Baal and Ashtaroth, just like the nations around them. In order
to understand what this meant, and why God judged this as evil, we need to understand a little
more about Baal worship. In ancient Canaan, almost everyone farmed for a living. So of course
your life depended on getting good crops. The people of Canaan believed that Baal was the god
of fertility, the god who made sure that springtime and harvest would come each year. Baal did
this by sleeping with his female counterpart, Ashtaroth.
However people did not sit back and wait for Baal to do this. There was no let go and let
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Baal thinking in their religion. Instead they set up temples with sacred prostitutes, both men and
women. Worshippers of Baal would then come and sleep with a prostitute. If this was done
enough, then Baal would see it and do the same with Ashtaroth, and so nature would be revived,
or so they thought. Around their places of worship, they built Ashtaroth poles – resembling male
genitals. So they might not have had the Internet or the printing press to produce pornography
like today, but they had their own ways of being every bit as filthy, degraded, and obscene.
These are the gods Israel chose to serve. They forsook the living God who had brought
them up out of Egypt with 10 powerful plagues. They left the God who opened the Red Sea.
They left the God who had provided bread from heaven, water from the rocks, and safety for 40
years in the wilderness and who had given them the land, defeating the Canaanites and their
gods. After all, in those days when you defeated a people, it was understood by all that you also
defeated their gods. But Israel turns aside from the Lord to worship these defeated gods. This is
what the Lord was referring to when he said that Israel had done evil in His eyes.
Now the burning question is, how in the world did Israel get to this point? Why would
they do this? There is no way to justify it – indeed, there is never a way to justify sin. That is
what makes it sin – there is never a good reason to sin. Not for Israel, not for you, not for me.
But though we can not justify the sin of Israel, we can trace how sin develops, and we must do so
today, for Scripture speaks this way as a warning to us lest we do as Israel did.
What was it that led Israel to do this? We need to back up to verse 10 of Judges 2 to
understand this. A generation rose who did not know the Lord. We see then that one generation
can enjoy a lively faith, commune with God, and delight in His ways. But another generation
can come along who does not care for this. There is no fire to their faith, no warmth to their love,
and no joy in their hope. We see here then that it is not enough for our children to mimic our
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rituals or to copy our faith – they must be personally converted to a living knowledge of the
living God. When you do not know the Lord personally, then you will slowly forget what he has
done for His people.
And you will forget to serve Him.
Is this sin also evident in our congregation? As the house visitation reports have been
read in the consistory meetings the past spring, several times the elders have reported that the
family they visited was not as faithful in seeking to know the Lord as they should have been. It
seemed to the brothers that they were beginning to get caught up in the busyness and
responsibilities of life. While this is not the same thing as no longer knowing the Lord at all, as
Judges speaks of it, it is the root of the same sin. If that root continues to fester, it can lead to
what Israel fell into – no longer knowing the Lord or His wonderful works. Deuteronomy
hammers this theme again and again – when you have houses and land, and you eat the good of
the earth, then beware lest when you are full you forget the Lord. Let each one examine himself.
This brings us to the second reason for Israel’s fall into sin and apostasy. Because Israel
failed to know God and remember His works, they also failed to remember that they were to be
separate from the nations around them. You see this in chapter 1 of the book of Judges, where
Israel failed to drive out the Canaanites from among them like God commanded, but they
allowed them to stay. First they tolerated them – seemingly only a small thing. But tolerate
Baal’s people, and you will end up worshipping at Baal’s altar. By tolerating the Canaanites,
Israel failed to remember that there is always a fundamental difference between the people of
God and the world, a difference that can not in any way be reconciled. There can be no
compromise. The two are always opposed to each other.
Now what does this have to say to us? It is obvious that you and I may not swing a
sword at our unbelieving world, nor may we live in ghettos totally outside of this world as
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members of the NT church. But we are still called in scripture to be separate from the world we
live in. Romans 12:2 – “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing
of your minds.” Do you and I have a godly, holy intolerance for the world and its way of
thinking? I do not mean that we hate people, because we are called to love even our enemies.
But do you have a holy intolerance for the sins of the world, and a radical desire to purge the
contamination of the sins of your culture from your own heart and life?
Let me name but one specific example. The area of dress has seen a radical change over
the last 60 years. Of course fashions always change over the years, but what has changed now is
more than an innocent matter of fashion. As you look at the trends, you see that everything
needs to be shorter, barer, lower, tighter, clinging, and sensual. Behind this change in the modes
and fashions of our culture today is a Canaanite preoccupation with sexuality, and with flaunting
sexuality. Have you and I escaped this trend in how we dress? Let each one examine himself or
herself.
Beloved, we live in a day in which we are surrounded by a new paganism. We are in
many respects in a similar situation as Israel. Canada is not a Christian country, and neither is
the United States. Our culture is throwing off the remnants of a Biblical morality, even if often it
was only external. Our culture is embracing a new paganism of pleasure seeking, of every man
doing what is right in his own eyes. The text this morning warns us of the sobering temptations
that living in such a setting brings with it. How you and I need to beware lest we find the roots
of sin that are in our hearts blossoming into the same blatant service of sin that Israel fell into. I
Corinthians 10: ‘let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.’
The points at which Israel took the first steps down the road to reach where we find them
in our text this morning are so basic – not knowing the Lord personally, and failing to remain
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fundamentally separate from the world. Yet how often families, churches, and even whole
denominations in the history of the church have fallen at exactly the same point. We have no
guarantee that our congregation or our denomination will escape this fall. But we do have a
calling to escape it, and a way of escape. That way of escape is called a lifestyle of repentance
and faith, but Israel did not live this way. They did evil in the sight of the Lord.
We have seen in the text Israel’s actions, and God’s evaluation. Now the text also shows
us the reaction of God. God humbles Israel by sending judgement. We read in verse one that the
Lord delivered Israel into the hands of the Midianites for seven years. No, Satan is not
responsible for this. God is the one who delivers Israel to Midian. The rise and fall of nations in
this world is not simply produced by a whole list of natural causes, but by the searing heat of the
wrath of God as He responds to sin. God makes Israel powerless in the hands of Midian. The
oppression that follows is not a sign of the powerlessness of God, but of God’s justice.
The description of this act of judgement by God is striking. Midian sweeps into the land
every year right around harvest time. The Midianites were actually descendents of Ishmael, the
son of Abraham. They lived in the deserts to the east of Israel in tents, with their flocks. Every
time there was something to harvest, the Midianites would sweep into the country with their
‘clean earth’ policy. They would eat everything Israel had planted, and would allow their herds
and camels to graze on the rest. The text compares them to locusts – in those days sometimes the
locusts would come in great clouds, eating every blade of grass and every bit of greenery they
could find. The Midianites came in like locusts – there were so many, you could not count them
or resist them. They were so destructive that they ate everything. Not only did they plunder the
entire crop every year, but they would also hunt for your animals, and take with them any sheep,
goats, or donkeys that they could find. Every year, as sure as income tax, but 10 times as
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demanding, the buzzards of Midian would sweep in and clean everything out.
You see the effects of this in the beginning of verse 6 – our translation reads “Israel was
impoverished” – you could also translate, Israel was brought very low. Literally. The invasion
is so massive, so overmastering, so maliciously unmerciful, that Israel is driven underground.
They had to hide in caves in the rocks to survive. It was a brutal business that made men creep
like moles under the ground. You did not dare to show your face. Whatever you did had to be
done in secret. If you planted something, you had no idea if you would ever taste a single grape
or eat a single loaf of bread from your own grain. Striking justice, is it not? The Midianite
locusts are eating the same grain that Israel was worshipping Baal to get. Israel was truly
brought very low – they were deeply humbled by the mighty hand of God.
This also has something to say to us this morning. In spite of God’s gracious blessings, it
is not unusual to find the covenant people of God becoming enthralled and captivated with the
sins of our day. Yet giving in to the temptation is risky, because God disciplines it. When you
embrace the materialism and pleasure seeking of this world today may tomorrow find that God is
no longer your friend, but your enemy.
You see, God is a jealous God. We read it every Sunday in the law – thou shalt not bow
down thyself to them nor serve them, for I the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, a God who
blazes in the searing heat of His wrath against sin. Such anger should not surprise us, for it is the
price we pay for being loved as the covenant people of God. There is a sense in which God
loves every covenant child, converted or unconverted. This love means that God will not
tolerate any rivals, for He is a jealous God. Jealousy is the flip side of love, it is required where
exclusive love is called for. Suppose a husband who has been generally attentive and devoted to
his wife gets clear proof she is having an affair. If he said ‘O well, you win some and you loose
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some,’ what would you think? Simply that he does not love his wife, for then there would not be
this nonchalance. Love can make you upset, jealous, and angry. Jealousy is love burst into its
proper flame, also in God.
This is the problem with having the God of the Bible as your God. To have a God who
loves His people is to have an intolerant jealous God. God’s love is not soft laxity, but blazing
intolerance, an absolute claim. Such is the God of Israel whose jealous love makes him faithful
in His anger. This is real love and fidelity, you forsake him and he will pursue you in His anger.
God will not allow you to sin unmolested. He will not allow you to remain comfortable in sin.
He will not let you become cozy in your iniquity.
Yet this is not simply bad news. Falling to the enemy does not sound like salvation to us.
And it is not. But if it forces you to lose your grip on your sins, it may be the beginning of
salvation. God’s jealous anger is not good news, nor is it purely bad news. It is good bad news.
The burning anger of God is not pleasant, but it may be the only sign of hope for God’s sinning
people – the sign of hope that he is not willing to leave them in their sins. This is how God
reveals Himself to us in this chapter of His word. Do you know Him like this? Do you worship
Him as this God? This is also the NT picture of God. We read in James 4:5 “Do you think the
scripture says in vain, the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously?”
This is the first act of God in our text this morning in humbling Israel for their sins. He
delivers them into the hand of Midian. But God also does more than this, as our second point
makes clear.
II.
He sends a prophet to rebuke them
Verse 6 tells us the response of Israel to God’s work of humbling them for their sins.
They began to cry to the Lord. What should we understand here? Some think we read here of
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repentance, of a turning to God from sin. But that is not the case. This becomes clear if you
continue to read Judges chapter 6. You find in verse 25-32 that Israel is still worshipping Baal,
because when Gideon smashes the altar and cuts down the Ashtaroth poles, the men of his
village want to kill him. Israel is complaining to God about its misery, and crying out to Him.
Yet the complaint is about the oppression they are enduring, rather than about the depravity and
sinfulness of their own hearts. Israel is crying out to the Lord not because she is sorry for her
sins, but because she is tired of the misery her sins bring.
How will God respond to this? In the earlier stories of Judges, God responded by raising
up a deliverer – you can read when you get home about Ehud, Barak, and Deborah. But now
God responds differently. Instead of sending a judge to save Israel, God sends a prophet to
confront Israel. What a strange twist of events. It is like having your car break down on the
highway and calling the garage for a mechanic, only to have the garage send a philosopher
instead. Israel asks for an act of power on God’s part – God gives them a prophet and a sermon.
Thus saith the Lord!
Why does God respond this way? Because Israel needs a prophet more than they need
immediate relief. They need to understand why they are suffering. They must see that God gave
them into the hands of Midian because they did not listen to His voice. God begins to deliver
His people by giving them a true knowledge of who He is, and of what they have done wrong.
You see, experiential heart religion, knowing the Lord, is not possible without first learning from
the Lord. Israel needs first to understand what is going on before God can save them. They need
to know who God is, and what sin is, before they can know what salvation is.
You see, the people actually think the Lord is someone whom they can manipulate. They
are treating the Lord like a vending machine – he is supposed to jump when you need something,
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but you can ignore Him for the rest. Actually, this is a common problem in prayer, not just for
Israel but at times for us also. You can turn to God in the moment when you need him, even
when you have not been walking in his ways. Yet you expect God to answer your prayers for no
other reason than that you are in need. James 4 calls this asking amiss, that you may consume it
upon your lusts. The book of Judges over and over again condemns this as idolatrous
manipulation. It shows that Israel does not know who God is, and who they are.
This is what the Lord points out in the message of the prophet. God points out that He
has done so much for them, He has blessed them with so many mercies. The Lord took them out
of slavery in Egypt, delivered them from all their enemies, and gave them the land of Canaan.
God has done too much for them simply to overlook their sins. The innumerable Midianites are
a fitting punishment for Israel’s rejection of innumerable mercies and blessings. Not only have
they rejected the mercy of God, but they have broken the laws of God. The prophet repeats the
demands of God – I said to you, do not fear the gods of the Ammorites in whose land you dwell.
And then the sermon concludes with an accusation – but you have not obeyed my voice.
God’s ways have not changed. He still often begins his work in someone’s life this way.
One man writes: “Like Israel we may want to escape from our circumstances, while God wants
us to interpret our circumstances. Sometimes we may need understanding more than relief;
sometimes God must give us insight before he dare grant safety. Understanding God’s way of
holiness is more important than absence of pain. We may want out of a bind, whereas God
wants us to see our idolatry. God means to instruct us, not pacify us.”
You see this happening in the NT as well. In the book of Revelation, chapters 2-3, God
also confronts the churches one by one. One church has a problem with worldliness, another
with false doctrine, and a third with a lack of love. The Holy Spirit carries out the same process
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in the lives of individual believers. Have you tasted something of this in your own life – the
instruction and correction of God, aiming to open your eyes to your specific sins? If so, then you
should be able to name some of your specific sins, rather than simply saying you are a sinner in
general. After all, when the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, He convicts of specific sins – you see
here in the text how the Holy Spirit points to the sin of idolatry and disobedience. What sins has
the Spirit convicted you of?
“Do you think this is a bit of a tough answer to Israel’s and our cries for help? We should
not miss the kindness of God in all this. One of the kindest things God does for us is to bring us
under the criticism of His word to expose the reasons for our helplessness and misery.” There
comes a time in the history of Israel when God will say to the prophet Hosea, Ephraim is joined
to idols, leave him alone. But now God does not say this. Now God still wants to speak to His
people, because He wants to save them. Israel was thinking about relief from her misery for a
while. God is thinking of relief from sin, and therefore of eternal salvation. In this God shows
his graciousness. When God criticizes and corrects us and imparts solid wisdom through His
word instead of granting instant deliverance, we should see here that it is utterly gracious.
Do you know that the wisdom of God in first sending a prophet has something to say in
how you speak of the gospel to others, and sometimes also to your own children about the grace
of God? Maybe someone has come to you crying because of their needs and troubles. How
should you answer? There are times when you can stand in the way of God’s work in their life
by applying comfort when they first need understanding. You can speak of forgiveness where
they need to hear the law, so that they know what is wrong, and what they need to be forgiven
for. You can speak of love when you should speak of the law. You can give them a bandaid that
makes them feel good for a little while, but they will still end up without the real change of life
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that is the only way to eternal blessings. No, this is not hardnosed or unloving. It is humbling,
but it is not unloving. The word love is not mentioned in our text today, but the love of God
shines in the whole passage, even when it is humbling. This comes to a climax in the third point.
III.
He comes to them through His angel
Did you notice something strange about the sermon of the prophet? He did not finish
what he was saying. You could say, there was no punch line or application. Think about this
sermon again: God reminds them of His covenant mercy in bringing them out of Egypt. He
reminds the people of His demands for obedience. Then he accuses the people of disobedience.
At this point you are holding your breath – what will God do in response to this disobedience?
We could easily list 10 passages of scripture where you find the same type of sermon, and where
the conclusion is – so I will judge you and punish you for your sins. But the sermon stops short.
The prophet does not say what we might hope – I will immediately deliver you. But the prophet
also does not say what we might have feared – I will punish you even more. The sermon ends
with the sins of Israel – you did not obey my voice. And then it stops. Unexplainable! Israel is
left hanging – or are they?
The very next sentence you read is “and there came an angel of the Lord.…” We should
actually translate ‘the angel of the Lord.’ Do you know who the angel of the Lord is in the OT?
It is the form in which the Lord Jesus Christ appeared before He became a man. This is none
other than the Son of God. What does he come to do? To execute the judgement of God like he
did in Egypt, in the last of the 10 plagues? No. Look at what he says to a man he finds in the
winepress of Ophrah, the man chosen by God to represent Israel. The Lord is with you. The
very God who has been against Israel now comes to sinful Israel, in the person of this one man,
and says – the Lord is with you. Astonishing grace and mercy, who can understand it? Amazing
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grace! Whom God ought to destroy, He delivers. The judgement that should have been
announced is skipped over – instead the angel of the Lord comes to announce salvation. The
Lord is with you – the angel says.
God takes the first step. The people have heard the sermon, and they have not yet
repented. Before they call on God in truth, God is already answering. God sends His son to
rebellious, wicked, and sinful people who are not seeking Him. God sends His son to people
who are not at all bothered that they have offended their Holy God. God turns to save people
who have not truly turned to Him. The Lord is with you, the angel of the Lord says. Where sin
is abounding, grace is abounding even more. Grace to chief sinners! Immanuel, God with us!
Can you not marvel at the grace of God here to sinners? How this should fill the heart of
every believer here with wonder this morning. A Christian, if he has any sense of his sinfulness
at all, agrees – it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. Doesn’t this text burn in
your heart? We can so quickly respond with a ho-hum attitude to God’s declarations of mercy,
because we have heard it all before. We can respond with – ho hum, isn’t God nice. What’s for
supper? If you fail to see, to feel, to delight in the miracle of God’s grace, then are you not a
stranger rather than a partaker of such unbelievable grace?
How such grace should humble the proudest sinner in the dust this morning. How such
grace should break our pride. Yet how such grace should fill even a chief sinner with hopes of
mercy. No matter who you are this morning, or what you have done, here is a God of
superabounding mercy and grace. There is a way back for you – because God is rich in mercy.
Does not His mercy break your heart? Does not His mercy and grace break you to fall at His
feet, forsake your sins, and embrace the grace He offers to sinners?
Amen.
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