Guarding the Path: “Facing the Plague of Nagging Doubts” – Judges 7 Part 2

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.
Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

Have you ever been plagued by doubt? If you say “No!” I doubt that I can believe you. Do you know why? Because doubt is based on our experience. It is a self-protection mechanism within us. We don’t want to face disappointment anew, so doubt protects us from becoming gullible and being taken in too easily.

Doubt in and of itself is not evil. It helps make you reflective. It slows down your response in the face of danger. At the same time, doubt can lead you to stop when you should be moving forward. Doubt throttles down action that shows trust. Because of that, believers sometimes feel they must hide their doubt from the God they serve. The problem is, God already knows what you are doing. The other problem is such hiding indicates you may not believe God is as He truly is. Let me see if a principle from the life of Gideon helps with this…

Key Principle: The believer who honestly shares with God personal doubts (but continues to follow God anyway) will find God both compassionate and understanding.

God doesn’t get easily ticked off about our lack of faith in Him – as long as it doesn’t stop us from obedience. The lesson today will help us grapple with doubt in an open way before God. In truth, the best single word to recall the whole of the Gideon story in your mind may simply be the word “doubt”.

If you look carefully, you will discover the account of the ongoing dialogue between Gideon and God is one filled with his objections and doubts – yet God was patient and used him. I don’t believe any President would keep a chairman of the joint chiefs if they pushed back so much about so much – but God isn’t like us. Look at Gideon’s track record with God:

First, at the scene of his call to serve, Gideon objected to God’s behavior. What God was doing in his time of history didn’t make sense to him (6:13-14).

Judges 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Second, and still in the scene of his call, Gideon’s second objection seemed to be concerning God’s choices. He felt others were more qualified than he to lead Israel to freedom (6:15):

Judges 6:15 He said to Him, “O Lord, [h]how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”

Third, Gideon needed reinforcement on the authenticity of the messenger as from the Most High, or he wouldn’t move forward to rescue Israel. He objected to God’s call without surety that it was from God. It is on this issue that Gideon was stuck over and over.

It is almost as if the story of Gideon in the Bible was mostly about following God through a doubt-ridden time.

The reason it may seem that way when you read it, is because that is EXACTLY what the narrative is designed to teach. Watch as Gideon keeps requesting confirmed authentication, beginning with Judges 6:17:

6:17 So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.

Gideon got his authentication, and God tapped him for an immediate project that night. He was told to destroy two pagan shrines, and he did so WITHOUT A QUESTION. God used that obedience to spread the name and reputation of Gideon to both his village, and the whole surrounding tribe!

To be fair, Gideon didn’t always object when God moved him to lead or serve. The record shows clearly that when he KNEW without a doubt that God was calling, he was willing to act decisively. He would obey, but he just couldn’t always make sense of God’s direction or God’s selection. Can you sympathize with him?

I am speaking to the man who is sensing that a change is coming in his job. He knows there is more he can and should contribute, but there hasn’t been obvious opportunity to grow in the job in a way that allows him to utilize his abilities. He knows there are better opportunities. How can he know if God wants him to take a chance and make a change?

I am thinking specifically of the young woman who was hoping that, by now, “Mr. Right” might come along. She believes God has tugged her heart to being a mother and a wife, but the prospects have been ever so thin. She wants to follow God’s leading, but she feels a bit stuck where she is.

I am wondering about the man who walked out of the doctor’s office unsure of the meaning of the diagnosis and how it will affect him and his family. He was blind-sided by the whole moment, and is struggling with God to find the meaning behind it all.

The record of Gideon’s struggle was given for all of them. Each one is facing a kind of confusion and disappointment that is hard to work through. Yet, God doesn’t want them to back away from Him and hide. The believer who honestly shares with God their doubts (but continues to follow God anyway) will find God both compassionate and understanding.

Follow the account of his life in the text a bit further. A little later in Gideon’s life (the time is not specified in the passage) the Spirit of God tugged once again on the heart of Gideon. He used a warrior’s trumpet to call the tribal force together (6:33). He sent messengers to the neighboring northern tribes (6:34). After he set the gathering in motion, he had some time to think about what lay ahead… and those nagging doubts rose again in his heart. The writer reminds:

Judges 6:36 Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.

The story unfolds TWO separate incidents where Gideon requests signs for authentication. One was a wet fleece and dry ground, the second a dry fleece and wet ground. It appears from the narrative the test took place over two nights, and God obliged his request. On the second morning, the test made clear:

Judges 6:40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.

After Gideon saw the signs, chapter seven reminds us that he swiftly moved on the command to call Israel to war. The chapter began with the fact that he and his men “rose early” and moved into position in the Harod Valley by the spring. If you have been following our story, you know that God tested Gideon back – calling his army too large to clearly deliver them without the possible misunderstanding that the people’s help was integral in the victory. God dismissed all but 300 men from the battlefront.

When we pick up our reading of the story again, the once swollen camp of Israel was now reduced to a skeleton crew, and night was drawing near. As the hundreds of campfires of Midianite and Amalekite warriors lit up on the sloping hill above the tiny Israelite squad, Gideon had yet another fear attack that overcame him. The text recorded it this way:

Judges 7: 9 Now the same night it came about that the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, 11 and you will hear what they say; and afterward your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp.” So he went with Purah his servant down to the outposts of the army that was in the camp.

Note several important details about the account:

• First, God gave Gideon a command – go down to the camp. God made perfectly clear to him what He expected. Obedience or rebellion appeared to be the choice.

• Second, God made a promise – the victory was assured for His people. He spoke of the victory was a “done deal” – I HAVE GIVEN their camp into your hands.

• Third, God offered an encouragement – if Gideon still needed more reinforcement, God offered a plan to meet his need. In the face of fear he was to find a friend and take a walk behind enemy lines and listen to the men around the camp fires. If he took the time to observe up close what was happening, he would be reinforced and ready to fight.

The way the passage is translated, it sounds like God offered an option only IF Gideon was too afraid – but that isn’t the real picture. The structure of the sentences is such that we should read it this way:

I want you to go and fight, and I promise that you’ll win. Because you are afraid, I want you to find encouragement by taking a friend on a walk and observing something…

Don’t skip over the ironic way the passage tell you of the size of the enemy:

Judges 7:12 Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

The point of explaining the number in terms of locusts and counting camels like sand kernels was simply this: there were too many enemies to even begin to count effectively. Yet, if you look down a few verses (7:16-18) – in the case of Gideon, God pared down his number, and offered the reader a strict inventory of what He used: The weapons blessed of the Lord included:

• 300 trumpets made from rams horns
• 300 earthen water pitchers
• 300 torches concealed inside the water pitchers.
• 300 swords

The size of the problem from God’s perspective isn’t the same as from our view.

To Gideon’s enemy, with their thousands of Midianites, each with camels and swords, they were an overwhelming force. As he and his servant Purah journeyed into the Midianite camp, Israel’s commander was so insignificant, no one would even ask him why a local was drifting from fire to fire in the dark of the night. The Midianites looked unstoppable!

• To Gideon, there was no way he felt significant in front of the sprawling encampment that spread across the valley onto the lower slopes of the Hill of Moreh. He stood no chance taking on such a massive number of enemies. If they chose to turn on him in the camp, he was finished.

That’s what insurmountable problems do. They make us feel small, overwhelmed and defeated.

Now stop and consider the view the Lord of Creation had of the same event. From beyond the quintillion galaxies, He peered to one tiny solar system. He focused on one small planet spinning around a star. On a tiny speck of that rock in space, He observed a minuscule landscape on which His people were dwelling. Bearing down further, He saw the sloping hillside and watched two men walk from the Israelite camp to the Midianite one.

I am not being poetic. The point is that is how God sees your problem. It looks HUGE to you – but not to Him. You cannot imagine how much greater God is in size than your insurmountable issue! The vastness and magnificent power of God should help balance you in times of depression against an unstoppable foe.

Don’t lose track of what God did. In a story where a hero saves his people, you’re usually dealing with a person of strength, great intellect, personal charisma and beauty, or enormous material resource. Gideon was none of these. At the beginning of the story he seemed a bitter and weak farmer, but in God’s hands he was transformed into an effective warrior and leader. One chapter into his story, you can easily forget that he really wasn’t that different. What changed was God walking with him through his days and nights. What changed wasn’t new muscle – just new trust… and that wavered constantly. What he experienced was a personal revival of sorts.

Underlying Gideon’s constant need for assurance was his basic temperament. Think about what he said when God first met him, because it revealed the kind of man he was at his core. He hid in a hole, because he felt overwhelmed by the size of a problem around him. Yet, it was more than that. Two things appeared to contribute profoundly to his cowardice: bitterness and timidity. Locked into a situation he couldn’t control, Gideon expressed open frustration because God was not coming through for him. Worse than that, Gideon felt that he had little or nothing to offer to help improve things. Have you ever faced a time when the problems were so large, and your resources so outmatched, that you honestly wondered what God was thinking putting you into something like that? God is always doing the very same thing – He is telling His story.

His view is greater, and His purposes are more vast and interconnected than we can perceive from where we are.

Take a walk with Gideon and Purah. Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to go alone. The sheer size of the enemy camp couldn’t have meant that God intended Purah to protect his commander. That wasn’t the reason he went with a friend. The truth is, most of the deep lessons of God are learned within, but bonded more firmly to our hearts when a friend can remind us of what God did later. Taking a friend on a journey to the place where God overcame your doubts will help both of you!

This week I read about one of the dynamic preachers in America from my school years – Dr. E.V. Hill. I first heard him when I was in Bible college. He was an energetic African-American pastor who had a congregation in Los Angeles. Since those days, just a few years ago he lost his wife of many years of marriage after her battle with cancer. Hill often describes his wife as a partner that made him a better man. He makes the point by telling some stories of how his wife made a difference in him:

He noted that in their early years of marriage he was a struggling preacher and had trouble earning a living. At one point, he decided to invest his family’s scarce resources over his wife’s objection in a local service station. His wife was right and eventually the station went under. It was a critical time in the life of E.V. Hill and his wife would have been justified in saying: “I told you so.” But when E.V. Hill told his wife what happened she just replied; “All right.” When he came home he was expecting his wife to give him the business. Instead she said: “I’ve been doing some figuring. I figure that you don’t smoke and you don’t drink. If you smoked and drank, you would have lost as much as you lost in the service station. So it’s six in one hand and a half-dozen in the other. Let’s forget it.” She could have shattered her husband’s confidence, but she told her husband what he needed to hear: “I still believe in you.”

A few nights later E.V. Hill came home and his wife had prepared a candlelight dinner. She said, “We’re going to eat by candlelight tonight.” He went to the bathroom to wash his hands and the light would not turn on. He felt his way to the bedroom and flipped another switch. Darkness prevailed. He went back to the dining room and asked his wife why the electricity was off. She began to cry. She said, “You’re working so hard and we’re trying, but I didn’t have enough money to pay the light bill. I didn’t want you to know about it, so I thought we would eat by candlelight.”

On another occasion Dr. Hill said his wife was his protector. He had received death threats due to his working with gangs in the inner city. One night he received notice that he would be killed the next day. He went to sleep and woke up thankful to be alive. But he noticed his wife was gone. He looked outside and saw the car was also gone. His wife came driving up and he asked where she had been. She said it occurred to her that the bad guys might put a bomb in his car and if he got in it the next morning he’d be blown away. So she got up and drove the car all night. E.V. Hill’s wife demonstrated unconditional love in marriage. She practiced the marriage covenant, “In good times and in bad times…sickness and in health, richer or poorer.”

Sometimes we need a friend to journey with us as God leads us to change…

Stoop and warm your hands beside the fire while men eat a meal and wait for the sunrise sounds of a battle breaking forth. Some men had eaten hours before and drifted off to sleep. Others were standing beside the fire pits talking. Apparently, one man awoke in his sleep roll and came back out to the fire…The account continued:

Judges 7:13 When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, “Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” 14 His friend replied, “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.”

Two men discussing a dream doesn’t seem like enough to erase the sense of enormity of the Midianite camp. Their discussion together did NOTHING to add soldiers back to Gideon’s command. The barley cake dream wasn’t anything of strategic value. No secrets were uncovered, no dramatic weaknesses of his opponents were exposed. Yet, in spite of all of that, Gideon was renewed, encouraged and strengthened. God told him the same thing the men concluded – Gideon would win. Somehow, when he heard it from the mouth of a sleepy Midianite it was more powerful.

God knew that His power was easily able to topple the Midianite coalition forces regardless of their size. God didn’t intend to leave the task to Gideon – He intended to do it WITH him and THROUGH him. That is the way God works. What needed to change for Gideon to lead the troops was his perspective. Pastor Joey Nelson reminds us of that perspective change:

Do you remember the four-minute mile? They’d been trying to do it since the days of the ancient Greeks. Someone found the old records of how the Greeks tried to accomplish this. They had wild animals chase the runners, hoping that would make them run faster. They tried tiger’s milk: not the stuff you get down at the supermarket, I’m talking about the real thing. Nothing worked, so they decided it was physically impossible for a human being to run a mile in four minutes. Our bone structure was all-wrong, the wind resistance was too great, our lung power was inadequate. There were a million reasons. Then one day one human being proved that the doctors, the trainers, and the athletes themselves were all wrong. And, miracle of miracles, the year after Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. And the year after that three hundred runners broke the four-minute mile!

I don’t want to seem trite and I don’t want to be dismissive of your fear and frustration if you are facing an enormous challenge. You aren’t Gideon. You don’t have a promise that you will get good news from the next doctor’s visit, that your son’s addiction problem will instantly evaporate, or that your debts will somehow be forgotten. Here is what I do know God has promised you…

2 Peter 1:3 “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Listen closely, and if you let them, you will hear the sound of these words growing courage within you.

• God HAS given to Jesus followers what you need to navigate life in a godly way. You don’t have to win every fight – you have to follow Him through every fight.

• God HAS given to Jesus followers a deep and real knowledge of Himself. He is not sadistic or cruel, and He has shared within you even some hidden things of Himself.

• God HAS given to Jesus followers an escape from the “living for today” rat race world we come out from – and helped us see the vast eternal landscape.

Take courage, dear one. God has given you something that will get you through the darkness. It is not a complex plan. It is nothing more than grasping His hand and following His directions – but that is more powerful than a non-believing world can imagine.

What did Gideon do when he heard the story of the rampaging barley cake? He left the campfire, dropped to his knees in the dark of night, and bowed his face to the ground. He met God again. He saw his smallness. He was surrounded by his overwhelming enemy. None of that changed. HE changed inside. He took a moment to see the whole situation from God’s lofty place. The text shares:

Judges 7:15 When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the camp of Midian into your hands.”

You can hear the urgency in Gideon’s voice. He was now sure that what God told him, God would do. His view of God’s faithfulness was bolstered by his experience. He apparently devised a plan on the walk back, and shared it with his men when he returned. Look at Judges 7:16:

Judges 7:16 He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers. 17 He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon. 19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Each stood in his place around the camp; and all the army ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. 23 The men of Israel were summoned from Naphtali and Asher and all Manasseh, and they pursued Midian.”

There are many ideas about what he was doing, but I suspect the one put forth by some Israeli military leaders about the scene is the most accurate. The theory is that the normal army would not attack at night (as the hazards increase between the various squads), but if they faced extraordinary circumstances and did attack, they would issue their men similar torches to identify various squads. If each squad were numbered at one hundred fighters, one torch would represent one hundred men. In that scenario, the exposed torches would confirm to the Midianite and Amalekite forces they were facing some 30,000 men. That probably seemed reasonable to those who saw the army before it was paired down by God!

Look at what he instructed the men to do.

• First, he told them to spread out around the camp in three focal positions and keep an eye on what he was doing. They were to mimic his actions fully.

• Second, he told them to respond to his trumpet blast by blasting their own from their various positions. This would give the impression of a vast force, as the trumpets are used to direct men. The Midianites and Amalekites didn’t know there were no men to go with the trumpets!

• Third, he told each man to cry out: “For the Lord and for Gideon!” There is no way he did this to bolster himself to the men. The point of the saying came from what he heard from the man with the barley cake dream. If that is what people were fretting, that is what his men needed to be saying!

• Fourth, he told them to smash the pots and show their torches. The appearance produced a scramble in the camp. Men took out their swords and began swinging into the darkness. This is the reason night attacks weren’t normally directed – people hurt their own comrades by accident. As the tumult grew, the Midianites and Amalekites – men who were trained in “raid fighting” and not standing warfare – tried to break ranks and flee into the dark. Even doing that caused others to be trampled and crushed.

Some escaped the valley, and Gideon didn’t want their leaders to get back to the desert and re-form for another raiding party. The text continues for the rest of the chapter and tells of how the other tribes joined the search, found and executed the enemy leaders (7:24-25).

The point of the story was that God not only gave the tribes of Israel victory, but He did it while dealing with a doubting and questioning leader. Gideon asked questions and was honest about his fear and doubt – but he didn’t turn and walk out on God. He kept pressing ahead even when doubts plagued him. Here is what we learn…

The believer who honestly shares with God personal doubts (but continues to follow God anyway) will find God both compassionate and understanding.

Author Gayle Thompson wrote this past summer:

Hillary Scott, one-third of the hit trio Lady Antebellum, surprised fans when she announced the release of “Thy Will,” the first single from her and her family’s faith-based album, Love Remains, in April of 2016. The song, Scott later revealed, was written with Emily Wiseband and Bernie Herms following her own personal tragedy, when a much-wanted pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Below, Scott recalls the emotional day on which the trio of tune smiths penned “Thy Will.”

When we were on tour [in the summer of 2015], my husband Chris [Tyrrell] and I just decided we wanted to expand our family. We got pregnant in July and then miscarried in September. And so, “Thy Will” is about me talking to God and asking Him why — like, “Okay, I thought this was a go. We prayed about it. We were going to bring Eisele a sibling,” and for all of it to just kind of not happen. It was my honest conversation with God about, why do bad things happen? But, ultimately, I trust Your will for my life and that it’s all going to be okay…Truly, I believe, [the song] became a pass-through for a message that was a lot bigger than just my own specific thing that I was going through…

The song is called “Thy Will” by songwriters BERNIE HERMS, HILLARY SCOTT, EMILY LYNN WEISBAND.

I’m so confused – I know I heard you loud and clear. So, I followed through. Somehow I ended up here – I don’t wanna think I may never understand that my broken heart is a part of your plan.

When I try to pray – All I’ve got is hurt and these four words… Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done.

I know you’re good – But this don’t feel good right now. And I know you think of things I could never think about. It’s hard to count it all joy, Distracted by the noise, Just trying to make sense of all your promises.

Sometimes I gotta stop – Remember that you’re God and I am not, So… Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done. Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is Thy will be done

I know you see me. I know you hear me, Lord. Your plans are for me Goodness you have in store. So, thy will be done. Thy will be done.

It sounds like Hillary got peace, even though she didn’t get an answer to her question as to why this happened. In the end, she learned that God could handle her doubts. She took her pain to God, and He gently held it in His hands.

Guarding the Path: “The Trust Walk” – Judges 7

cntowerIn Toronto, (Ontario) Canada, the “CN Tower” stands today as a city icon. It towers at a height of over 1800 feet, and functions as a concrete communications tower, as well as a visitor’s observation deck. The massive structure was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest freestanding tower at that time. Attracting millions of visitors annually, the tower features a glass floor allowing the visitor to view down to the street level many stories below – something the Eiffel Tower has now opened because of the obvious popularity of such things. It seems there are many who wish to test themselves by walking out onto a clear glass floor high above the landscape, overcoming their God-given sense not to walk into thin air. Their trust in the engineered glass, the installer of the floor and the architect must be very strong to walk out onto something even a child knows is perilous.

I mention these modern “towering attractions” with their glass floors simply because, at least for someone like me (with an intense respect for gravity that unenlightened persons many call a “fear of heights”), the buildings help me picture in my mind’s eye a true test of confidence. When there is a steep drop beneath you, the reliability of whatever is holding you from that “plunge to your death” must come immediately into question (if you have any sense at all).

Let’s face it: a perilous cliff is a great mind clarifier.

If you have been following the series, the story of Gideon has been our subject for a few lessons. As the seventh chapter of Judges opened, a man selected by God was in peril – as was his whole nation! He was facing a battle with an army that out-manned and outgunned that of his countrymen. He was new (and largely unannounced) to his post as commander in chief of the tribal forces. The coming fight required God’s miraculous help for success because Israel was so weakened they had little to draw on in their own resources.

Looking back in the story to chapter six, Gideon began his relationship with God with a very weak faith, but was slowly bolstered by testing the Holy One. In patience, God encouraged the young “would be” hero as God met the requirements of each test. The point wasn’t to teach us to test God, as much as it was to show that such testing brings its own problems.

First, when we test God, our immaturity makes cloudy God’s Sovereignty and we are liable to see “coincidence” at play. Though God is always in control, our struggle is our own surety of that control, and personal confidence that we know what He wants us to do to fit in His plan.

A second issue that arises when we test God, is God may respond by testing us – since that is how we think we will learn best. In Gideon’s case, God turned the tables and tested the man – and that is where we will pick up our reading of the story in Judges 7:1-8. The story is one that can be found throughout the Bible…God placed Gideon in the crucible of trouble, and met him in the desperation of that moment.

There is a truth we can see revealed in this passage that seems like it can only learned under the pressure of troubles… and Gideon is really under intense pressure…

Key Principle: In stormy circumstances or perilous moments, trust is the key to boldness.

I learned this truth early in life. Growing up, when I fully trusted my older brother to defend me, I could walk in front of that bully in my class with great confidence. I didn’t worry about being punched – my brother would take care of me. If I didn’t know he was there, or wasn’t convinced that he would come to my rescue – my boldness would have evaporated. Trust makes you bold.

Gideon was about to face the battle that defined his life and career! He didn’t arrive in that place without some significant learning from God. The last chapter made clear some tests that are common to believers when they believe God is pulling them to a specific service for Him:

• First, Gideon struggled to be sure it was really God Who was pulling him to that special service of leading Israel, as recounted in Judges 6:11-24. This was a test concerning DISCERNMENT.

• Second, Gideon was challenged in Judges 6:25-32 with a test of CONSECRATION. He had to remove the idols that marked the village, and place his trust solely in God to protect him against an angry mob of neighbors.

• Third, Gideon fleece tested God for some additional assurance that God’s promises truly were ENOUGH to bring miraculous victory in Judges 6:33-40. This was a test of ASSURANCE.

Now we unfold the story of yet a fourth test – this one from God to Gideon.

As some early successes began to fall into place, the issue of sole trust in God’s strength (as opposed to our own) came into view. Gideon encountered this fork in the road in Judges 7:1-8. This is the test of SUFFICIENCY.

Judges 7:1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside [a]the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of [b]them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel [c]would become boastful, saying, ‘My own [d]power has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore [e]come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. 4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” 8 So [g]the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And [h]Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

Look with me at the Sufficiency Test: (i.e. “Will I trust GOD to provide the victory?” (7:1-8). I noted a moment ago that God initiated this test, so that He could instruct an anxious general before a fight. Look closely at the details as the story opened…

First, note that God knew Gideon well. He didn’t unfairly test an unarmed man.

Judges 7:1 opened with the simple word: “Then…”

This test occurred only after God made clear pronouncements of both His plan and His power to Gideon. God told him he would be mighty and victorious. God showed him that the Almighty could meet any test placed in front of Him.

In following God, there are really only two issues. First, I must know what He wants me to do and believe that God is able to do through me what He called me to do. Those are intellectual issues – problems of knowledge. Second, I must be willing to DO what He called me to do – a problem of my will.

Whenever people are doing the wrong thing in life, it really comes down to two issues: either they cannot do right or the will not do right. If they cannot – they need training to know HOW to do right. If they WILL not – they need discipline to soften their stiff neck. No amount of training will change one who has their will set to do wrong. That isn’t the issue – surrender is. Gideon was willing, and he was informed – chapter six made that clear. The “then” in the text was to mark those facts as learning experiences now behind him. Don’t fear that God will throw you in the deep end until you have learned to spiritually doggie paddle. He won’t. He doesn’t do it that way.

Second, note the public reputation God gave Gideon quickly took hold. The text says:

Judges 7:1b “…Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.

Clearly the people of the region knew about Gideon’s night of tearing down the Asherah pole and Baal shrine as unfolded in the story of chapter six. Gideon obeyed God, and God built his reputation – and with that his ministry effectiveness. Remember, in the natural world, Gideon was the WRONG AGE and from the WRONG FAMILY. He could have spent years trying to be noticed by his tribe or others from the tribes of Israel. It wouldn’t have worked. God gave him what he couldn’t attain apart from God. That is how it works for one who would serve the Most High. We aren’t called because of our ability, but because of His plan. Any ability we do have was created for us and birthed within us. At the same time, God will add to us what we need to do what He called us to accomplish.

Because that is the case, in the story of God’s work through you, let’s “take off the table” the things that God will not accept as excuses that you may pose to keep yourself from serving Him:

• I am not old enough or too old.
• I don’t have the right credentials or background.
• I don’t have an opportunity to be used by God where I am.
• No one will listen to me.

All these and many more objections evaporate when we look at Gideon. He found God’s call in hole. He wasn’t the obvious choice, but he was God’s choice. God told him what to do in the next step – even though he couldn’t see where it led. He obeyed. God made his name a household word. Imagine, he became a celebrity merely by obedience to God. The truth is, that is the best way to get to such a status! Follow God and trust what He tells you – and He will enable you.

Third, note that God is not at work in us to build our reputation as an end in itself.

God makes much of us so that we can make much of Him. You can see that as the account continues:

Judges 7:2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’

Just as we have the tendency to feel inadequate before we have God’s empowering in our work, we can have the tendency to believe we have become deserving after we have received some level of success from God’s call. Though the issue in verse two appeared to be primarily about an arrogance that would come upon the people, Gideon was to understand this essential lesson at the same time.

Why do we come so quickly to believe we are worthy of the blessings God brings our way? That is an important question for any Jesus follower, and a VERY important question for an American. Let’s face it: even our poor people have more than people in most places on the earth. We have had extravagant wealth, unimaginable comfort and a saturation of good things in our society. Complain as we do about all the issues of our lives, we have to admit there is no better time in which to live if we want to measure by convenience. There is no place better to live if we want to speak about hope and a future.

I want you to know that as I stand and watch young people grapple with God’s Word, I become more and more hopeful about the possibility of a sixth revival for our nation. There have been five revivals, beginning with the “Great Awakening” during colonial times. Think back to the time at the birth of our nation. The “Age of Reason” so gripped a generation that many thought they were watching the very sunset of belief in God. Sin and rationalization reigned – and then, almost without warning, a revival began. It didn’t begin with the old – but with the young.

• Jonathan Edwards, the minister from Yale, became concerned that New Englanders were leaving God for materialism. His hardened sermons were delivered with un-tempered fury and conviction – and God used them.

• George Whitefield was a British minister who traveled the American colonies and shared God’s Word. An actor by training, his dramatic presentations of the Word were something to behold!

Many scholars believe the Great Awakening not only pushed back the influence of the Enlightenment, but it was a likely long term cause of the Revolution in the colonies. Turning to God, people began to see the need for broader return to the Bible than the Church of England seemed to desire. In America, the church of God was no longer filling pulpits strictly with the intellectuals of the upper crust, but rather men of fire and Spirit who knew God’s call on their life. The Awakening had the effect of binding the colonies together in a common belief they could share, helping to break down differences between them. England was passing through this experience with the colonists – making them seem “different.”

That wasn’t the only revival that came through the hands of the young in America. In fact, no sooner had that revival cooled into a secularist reaction, when another revival blew in the American winds. This one was called the Haystack Prayer Meeting. It started with five students in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the hot days of Summer in 1806, and has come to be viewed by many scholars as the spark for the birth of the fire of Protestant missions over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Five college students gathered to pray for the lost people of Asia. From that group grew the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). By 1812 they sent the first American missionaries to India. After that, they followed with outreaches to China, Hawaii, and south east Asia. They built hospitals and birthed schools at various mission stations. They undertook translation of the Bible and continue in until today in groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and many others.

They started with a few people who appeared to be the wrong age in the wrong place. God made much of them, so they could make much of Him.

Fourth, note the first people “cut” from participation in God’s work, were those who relied more on their feelings than God’s promises.

Did you notice the way Gideon was to “thin out” the group gathering to fight? Look again at verse three:

Judges 7:3 Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.

God told Gideon to reduce the size of the army. Gideon grabbed the bull horn and made an incredible announcement to the small army of God’s people. God told him what to say, and he obediently shared it exactly as God told him. The announcement was direct and simple: If you feel afraid, go home. Feeling a license to decide by their feelings, two-thirds of the people left.

How disheartening do you think that was for both Gideon and those who were left among the 10,000?

It was disheartening, but that was the point. In one moment, God removed from the people who would fight any sense that victory would come because of them. They were going to KNOW the blessing of the Lord. What would the people who went home feel? In the short run, relief would come. They didn’t have to fight. Yet, in the days ahead, they would always know they decided to walk away from the moment God showed His power – because they relied on their emotions to make their choices. The Bible is replete with stories that warn against following one’s heart. Without trying to insult you, may I simply repeat what the Bible says (Jeremiah 17:9): “”The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Trust your heart and not God’s call – and you will live to regret that decision.

Life doesn’t really get thrilling until you know you are riding a wave on the waters that God gathered to carry you!

Don’t spend all your time so in touch with your feelings that you don’t seek God on the direction you should take. If He directs you toward something different than you thought you would experience, take your time to HEAR from Him, and not just from your own emotional reactions. We don’t grow up until we are in charge of our choices – and our responses are controlled.

The longer I live, the more I become aware of the many who seem unable to choose and then act on their choices. They seem like Zodes to me. To those who may not know what a “Zode” is, they are the creations of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). Consider the Dr. Seuss’ poem: “The Zode In The Road”:

Did I ever tell you about the young Zode?
Who came to a sign at the fork of the road?
He looked one way and the other way too –
the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zode scratched his head, and his chin, and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance.
If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I like it or not.
On the other hand, though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it’s too cool
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue.
So Place One may be best and not Place Two.
Play safe,” cried the Zode, “I’ll play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start off to both places at once.”
And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance
Went no place at all with a split in his pants.

Yes, beloved, some of us are like paralyzed Zodes, unable to choose and unable to own our choices when we make them.

We want God’s blessing without choosing to trust God’s promises. We want victory without a fight and wealth and security without work and sweat. For the 22,000 who went home that day, they trusted their fear more than their God. Sadly, years later they would recall that choice. That is what happens when we won’t trust God’s promises.

Fifth, take careful note that God doesn’t fill the ranks of His Kingdom with those the world would choose.

I don’t want to seem uncomplimentary here. If it helps, I consider myself one of those with whom God has chosen to work – and I know more intensely than any of you (perhaps) my huge number of flaws and weaknesses. To be honest, there are a number of ways to understand the test that God set up next in the story, but I will tell you what I honestly believe is the heart of this account as best I can discern.

First, note that God set this test up apart from Gideon. Commander Gideon was to pass on instructions from God and take the ones God sent His way. The writer said it this way:

Judges 7:4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

Now watch the test as God shared it with His people:

Judges 7:5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” 8 So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

I have been on a battle field, and I have seen war. Here is one lesson I learned on the first day the shooting started – stay down below the wall at all times. People shoot at what they can see. They don’t distinguish between people fighting them and anyone else. They will shoot at you if they see your movement!

Look at the scene that day at the spring near the Gilead Mountain called today “Ma’ayan Harod.” The spring comes out of a cave on the south side of the Jezreel Valley in a spur called the Harod Valley and creates a short stream with pools. I have been their many times in the heat of the summer to cool off. Standing at that place, it is clear the stream bed is the low point of the sloping valley, and that meant that Israel’s enemies were north of them, looking down a long slope to that spring. Behind the troops of Gideon there was a steep cliff lifting upward to the Gilboa Range. The people couldn’t easily escape, and had little strategic advantage from that place. IN fact, it was a terrible place for a small army to encamp.

Two kinds of men approached the water in the scene. Some – the majority – slinked over close to the ground until they came upon the water and drank. The term “kneel” in Judges 7:6 is a form of the Hebrew word “kawraw” which is to bow to the ground. It is often used to denote bowing to the ground in worship. It appears the writer was sharing these men moved low to the ground and stuck their head into the water below the line of sight of their enemies.

There were the others – the 300 – who appeared to haplessly approach the water and reach down with cupped hand to take water up in their hands – while they stuck up on the plain and could be seen from across the plain. As they brought the water up in cupped hands, the enemy could watch their every move. These were the “lappers” – and their actions showed either incredible bravery, or (more likely) unequaled stupidity.

Remember the rule: “When in battle, never, never, stick up!” Lay down. Stay close to the ground! Try NEVER to be seen. Don’t move in the open. Apparently the three hundred didn’t get the memo.

Yes, beloved, it appears that God sent off all the smart people and left Gideon with the clueless and incompetent. It may not sound complimentary, but it seems as though that was EXACTLY what God had in mind!

God doesn’t think like the world does. In their fallen state, when the world needs to be saved, who do they call upon? They would, without hesitation call on a superhero! First, that is because that is the business of such characters. Second, they are intrinsically better than the rest of us. They are characters that are larger than life.

• Aquaman could send telepathic signals to get fish to help him. I can barely keep them alive in an aquarium tank!

• Superman could leap tall buildings in a single bound. I can’t even get myself to look over the side of tall buildings!

• Batman can make words appear when he hits people – works like “Biff” and “Pow” and “Zowie.” When I punch someone, I can’t even get a bruise to appear!

When a superhero comes onto the scene – criminals hide. They fear these mighty masked men and women.

That is what the world thinks – someone can get the job done because they are intrinsically more capable than the rest of us. Anyone who knows the Bible knows that isn’t the truth. The book is filled with incredibly dumb and unbelievably dull people who do incredible things – BECAUSE GOD ENABLED THEM.

Here is the painful truth: I CANNOT be invisible. I barely fly when the airplane does all the work! No criminals are terrorized by my presence. I am not indestructible nor am I bullet proof. Yet, here is the blessing: My ability is not the key to my usefulness. I don’t need to be a superhero – I just need to serve a powerful and limitless God.

The sufficiency test isn’t about MY capability – it is about my trust in a God who is always able.

Paul noted the source f confidence, but made clear it wasn’t from within. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26:

1 Corinthians 1:26 “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble…”

The clear implication is that God didn’t choose you for His family because YOU brought superhero skills or unusual abilities. The words wise, mighty and noble cover the three areas of unique understanding, unusual physical prowess and remarkable pedigree. Paul simply said that when we consider our calling as God’s children, we should recall it isn’t because of any of these.

Why then, was I invited to be a part of the family of God?

1 Corinthians 1:27 “…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.”

God calls those He has invited to join Him the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised and those who “are not” –

There is an old Chinese proverb about an elderly peasant who had two large clay pots. One of the pots had a crack along its side from the brim to a point about half way to the base of the pot. The other pot was perfect, entirely without cracks or leaks! Each had been securely attached on opposite ends of a pole made up of several thick pieces of bamboo that had been bound together. In the middle of this pole he wrapped numerous layers of muslin and wool to create an area of padding. The peasant laboriously carried this cane and the two water pots across the back of his neck to get water. At the end of the lengthy hike from a mountain, freshwater spring to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half filled. The intact pot delivered its contents of fresh water chocked-full in volume. For several years this went on day after day; the water-bearer only delivering one and a half pots of the precious fluid to his home. Of course, the perfect pot was swollen with pride in achieving its fullest potential. But, the poor cracked pot was outright embarrassed of its imperfection, feeling miserable that it was only able to accomplish one half of its intended task. After these years of despondence, it finally speaks to the water-bearer one day as they nearing the mountain spring. “I am ashamed of myself! This horrendous crack in my side allows me to leak a portion of my contents all the way back to your house.” The water-bearer responded, “But haven’t you noticed all the beautiful flowers on your side of the path? And were you not aware that on the opposite side of the path there is nothing but wild grass, briars, and weeds? That’s because I have always been aware of your so called ‘flaw.’ For this reason, I took time to plant and cultivate those lovely flowers as to allow the water that leaked from you to water them each day. This makes our trip so pleasant and charming. And for all these years I have been able to return to the path time and time again to gather a bouquet of vibrant, aromatic flowers to brighten up and fragrance the gloominess and foulness of our home.” (From A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

The proverb reminds us that when we realize our weakness, we may take away the wrong message. We seem inadequate because we don’t recognize the full purpose of our lives. God knows. He called us because He knows what He wants to accomplish. Our confidence must be in HIM, His plan, His wisdom. That will cause us to keep going with great boldness.

When we trust Him, we gain confidence – and in stormy circumstances or perilous moments, trust is the key to boldness.

• God isn’t asking you to come up with a great plan for your life today – only to trust Him and invite Him daily to lead you.

• God isn’t expecting your confidence to grow as you look at your life and abilities – only that you would look more carefully at His power based on the things He has created.

• If God truly made all you can see; and God said He has a purpose for all that surrounds you – can you not see He has a purpose for you as well? Trust Him. He will walk with you through the storm.

Guarding the Path: “Heed the Call” – Judges 6 (Part Two)

god-is-callingWhether you have ever considered it seriously or not – God has a call on your life. He wants to walk with you and He wants to lead you through the path of your life to accomplish what He designed for you while you BECOME what He intends you to be. This lesson is about discovering that process (of His call) and responding properly to it.

Our last lesson focused on the resistance of believers to invite God on the daily journey of their lives. We were reminded how heavy life is when we try, even in Christ, to walk the road in our own strength and for our own purposes. Life lived intentionally with Jesus as my daily invited partner is life lived with a touch of Heaven’s promise. The story was a simple application of Judges 6 as the writer of Scripture set up the rescue God brought through Gideon.

• It was taken from a time when Israel returned to doing evil (6:1).

• As a result of their choice, God placed them under a physical bondage that offered them a graphic picture of the “heart bondage” to other gods and other agendas that come with the dulling of a believer’s rebellion (6:1b).

• The result of drifting from God into self-life left Israel without the power to pull off life, and they ended up hiding in their own land of promise (6:2).

• They were subjected to cruel treatment of the world around them, and they found themselves in perpetual pain and lack, overwhelmed and discouraged (6:3-5).

• Their state finally pressed them to the point they cried to God from the bottom of their hearts (6:6).

If they were like most of us, the cry probably wasn’t so much about the loss of their sense of relationship with God – but their loss of the natural blessings that overflow from that daily and intentional invitation to walk with Him. When troubles roll in like a flood, we may cry out to God, but it is more about the flood than about our desire for Him.

One of the greatest problems a believer faces is the deception that we are competent to take on the world and navigate successfully on our own. Even though we know that we invited the Savior into our heart and received both His Spirit and His salvation, the old nagging thought that God isn’t really essential today haunts us. It is an OLD deception that came from the very Garden of Eden – when Eve believed that intimacy with God wasn’t the “only way” to have a good life. How do I know this is the case? The answer is simple: many believers, when being honest, report they move through large blocks of time in their lives when they don’t deliberately engage God beyond the occasional “saying of grace” at the food table.

Back to Judges 6

Go back to the wayward people in Judges 6. Don’t forget that before God sent to Israel a rescuer and a renewed time of blessing, He sent a prophet to completely expose and answer the charges that their current misery and peril was somehow His oversight. The writer reminded:

Judges 6:7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, 8 that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”’”

We must be very careful when we find ourselves in difficulty and trouble, not to swallow the tempter’s lie that God is the One responsible for our trouble. He isn’t; yet we know that many of us have gotten angry with Him because of a stubborn rebellion in US. God reduced all the troubles down to the single issue: “You walked away from ME, and when you did, blessing slipped away into the darkness!”

God’s invited presence and deliberate worship brings a sense of confidence to your life that whatever you are passing through, He is right beside you. At the same time, can we not admit that if we are inviting Him to journey with us, His very presence will likely change some of what we pass through? Aren’t there problems we encounter BECAUSE we chose to walk alone? I think we all know there are.

Inviting the Lord to walk with you isn’t so much about getting Him in step with you as it is is getting in step with Him. We refer to that “getting in step” as “finding” and then “following” your CALL by God. Let’s say it this way: Your job isn’t to choose your ministry as much as it is to follow the direction of God and His Word on the path HE has chosen for you. God gifts, enables and calls you – but He requires that you trust Him and follow Him. Gideon’s experience will teach us something about following our call…

Key Principle: God offers basic steps to listening for and responding well to His call in your life.

Pick up your reading in Judges 11 as the messenger of the Lord Most High is encountering Gideon. We learn something from the beginning of the encounter…

There are two parts to our record. The first is about grasping God’s call. The second is about responding properly to God’s call.

Look at how to grasp the call of the Lord in your life.

First, a call begins with the truth as it is revealed by God. Remember, God picks the time and place to call you (6:11,12).

Judges 6:11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.

Look closely and you may begin to apply truths found in the details of the scene in three simple imperatives:

Get moving! Notice in the case of Gideon, that God sought him out, and found him busy and working. That’s an important little note. God doesn’t want you to sit idly until the perfect opportunity to minister drops into your back yard. He desires to move in the life of someone who is already showing movement in solving issues! It is far easier to steer an automobile that is moving rather than re-directing the wheels of one that sits still.

Set proper expectations! When God called Gideon, it may have seemed profound – but the actual picture that day was a guy relaxing under a tree and talking to a guy steadily working in a hole beside him. There was no recorded thunder in the sky or angelic choir. Get a grip on your expectations. God’s call in your life is not necessarily a dramatic event – but it always causes dramatic events. He calls you to make a difference as you walk with Him, not “hold a spot” on the bench of His Heavenly team full of “wanna be” followers. The truth is God called you because He intends to use your life in the lives of others. Jesus said: “You didn’t choose Me; I chose you to bring forth fruit!” to His first followers. Paul noted the same was true of later believers. God’s call may not be dramatic, but He has a plan to use you – and how can that not be an exciting prospect?

Keep listening! God’s Word contains God’s call for you both in general terms, and very often in specific ones. Though for some in the Word He used a dream, an angel or some profound prophetic device, for most it was the routine engagement with His revealed truth that brought the clarity of His direction. The same is true now! He may use the extraordinary, but for most of us the key will be absorbing His Word and walking with expectancy that when we invite Him on the daily journey, He will take the lead and offer us direction.

There are times when God will direct you within. I may go to a hospital and the person I came to see is out of the room for tests. Because I get pressed in the number of hours I have to get things done, if I am wise, I will stop and ask God: “Is there someone else I am here to see?” He has often indicated there was by whatever happened next. I don’t live life that way; but I do see it happen from time to time. Let me also post this warning to those who think that is ALL there is to following God… God is with you in the planning time as well. Messages aren’t spontaneous. Preparation of teaching the Word takes time, effort, prayer and seeking. God is there during that stage as well, and isn’t just swooping down on the perpetually unplanned to carry them through His work. Don’t get hung up on either extreme.

Second, remember that God called you because He knows what He is going to do in and through you.

Your calling is about the surrender of your present self so that God can take you on the journey to your future. Judges 6:12 says:

Judges 6:12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.

In our last lesson I made the point that Gideon was hiding in a hole when these words were uttered. We noted that God knew He would make much of Gideon, so He spoke in glowing terms to the man long before the man could see what God was saying in his own life.

It is important for us to remember the success of our call isn’t dependent upon our ability – but rather our faithfulness to follow our Master. If we listen to His call, if we follow His Word – we will reach the destination He planned as the one He desires us to become. Over and over we must repeat the truth that God is more interested in what we are BECOMING than what we are accomplishing. We cannot DO anything positive toward that goal that He doesn’t enable us to do – so our accomplishments and abilities are NOT the primary reasons for our call.

I was talking recently to a man who took his son hunting for the first time. They like to supplement their freezer with some deer meat, and the family looks forward every year to hunting season and fishing season, because they are times when they go camping, and dad graphically supplies the needs of the family in a way that even the youngest of the children truly understands. It has been their family practice since before the children can remember. In any case, the dad had opportunity to take his son as the young man began his own tradition of provision. The boy brought home his first kill, and he couldn’t stop talking about an experience that actually was a long time of sitting in a blind silently, waiting for a deer to happen by. Stop and think about that father for a moment. Do you believe he brought his son because he felt that would improve the chances for the family to get meat this year? Of course, you don’t. The man brought his son for the sake of his son – not so much for the ability of his son. That is how God calls you to a work or task. You and I don’t bring much to it at all – but He delights in walking out into the work with us, and coming home to celebrate with us when the day is done.

Third, don’t battle an Almighty God and not expect to get bruised.

Let’s allow for the fact that Gideon probably had no clue of the exact identity of this messenger when he made his less than educated remarks about God. I suspect if he recognized the angel was what he was, Gideon might have tailored his remarks a bit better. The text recorded:

Judges 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.

Gideon was probably tired and no doubt disgusted with the state of affairs reported in the local newspapers. Do you know what he felt like? At every turn, he felt like times were tough, and there didn’t seem to be good reasons to hope things were about to get appreciably better. Look at the verse again. He uses words like “abandoned” and “given us into the hands” when he spoke of HIS DAY, but words like “miracles” when he spoke of the days of his fathers. Gideon believed the PAST was when God was busy, and the present is when God is disengaged. When we lose hope, we tend to think that way.

Here is the problem: Every moment we spend trying to figure out God instead of following Him is a wasted moment. That isn’t our job, and we don’t have the faculties to do it very well at all. It is promising to note that God doesn’t only work with those who have great understanding of His plan, but we have to remember that He works with those who aren’t consumed with second guessing Him.

If you need to see the end from the beginning of the call – you don’t trust Him enough to really follow Him. Let Him lead with His view of things. He knows where He is going.

When Jesus called His disciples, some were sitting and listening to His cousin John. Others were cleaning our nets or working in their tax offices, etc. They didn’t know what their life would entail. Many of those men eventually went to far flung places in the Roman world to carry the message of the Gospel. They couldn’t have had any concept that God would do that through them when Jesus walked by and said “Come, follow Me!” They didn’t know where life would take them – but they followed the Savior. You don’t know either, but the requirement is the same. Follow Him. Don’t figure Him out before you begin – follow Him.

When you listen to the words of Gideon, can you pick out how incredibly depressed he sounds? I think he had good reason to feel beat down, though his theology was a bit cobbled together and confused. If he showed anything, perhaps it was this: It is reasonably useless to try to define truth by your feelings in the middle of a conflict where you are regularly getting beaten up. Let me say it another way: No one I know well can clearly reckon how things are actually going in the middle of raising teen agers. There are moments of uncertainty in life… and “conflict periods” are prime among them.

If you have faced reversals, it may not be the best time to evaluate the goodness of God – and you aren’t in the right emotional place to make broad stroke judgments about His character based on your experiences and your feelings about those experiences. General George Patton, in “War as I Knew It” reminded men to “never try to get an accurate assessment of the battle from a wounded soldier who was being carried off the field in a stretcher.” You and I cannot, cannot, cannot trust our feelings about God’s power when we aren’t relying on it.

Fourth, keep it simple. Draw the whole argument in your mind down to what it is really about: “Will you do what God told you to do?”

That is God’s question in the text…

Judges 6:14 offered the Lord’s simple reply: The Lord looked at him and said,Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

Note the messenger offered no response to Gideon’s ridiculous charges made out of Gideon’s deep disappointment of God’s performance (as he saw it). The messenger spoke past the false statements and cut the whole message down to the simplest imperative: “Will you follow?”

You have been on the highway for hours. The traffic has been a nightmare and you pull off into a gas station in a small town because the highway resembles a parking lot. After pumping gas, you walk into the store and get one of the hot dogs from the hot metal rollers, stick it in a bun and walk to the check out. The man takes your money and asks you how your day is going. You grunt an answer of discontent and are ready to walk back to your car. The man says: “Sir, you may want to use the road to the left for the next ten miles. It runs parallel to your highway and reconnects, and most people won’t know about it – so it will surely be faster in this traffic!” What do you do next? Do you complain about how bad the last few hours have been? Do you explain to the man that you have really had a rough time, and you don’t know if you can keep going? No! You thank him for the direction, and follow the new route. Why? Because whatever you have been through is irrelevant. The only issue now is whether or not you will take the direction and change the next hours of your life.

By this point in Gideon’s story, it appears to be becoming more clear WHO was speaking, and WHAT was expected. We should recall that while God doesn’t pretend to tell us our destination, He is usually very clear concerning His demand for our obedience. God challenges his people to commit themselves not just their things (14).

Fifth, never calculate your mission as if it is based solely on your ability.

This sounds like a redux of what we have seen, but it is too important to pass by quickly – because so many fall on that slippery spot.

Judges 6:15 He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

Most of us know much more about our weaknesses than our strengths. Most of us are much more easily convinced that failure is more likely than success to a difficult venture of obedience.

Most of us think about our day in terms of our own strength, not in terms of God’s. One of the great side benefits of daily inviting God, and then walking in His conscious presence is the size of the resources you can bring to the problems you face. Our biggest problems shrink dramatically in front of an All Powerful God.

Sixth, hear and grasp the promises of God in your mission.

The text isn’t about you, but it is FOR you. It is a story to make an encouraging point…

Judges 6:16 But the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”

God wasn’t SENDING him, He was ACCOMPANYING Him. God has never been trying to find people to work for Him, but rather to work with Him. He’s been doing that since He pulled man from the mud of the Garden. The secret of Gideon’s victory was to be the same as yours – the “practiced presence of God”.

After grasping God’s call, let’s keep observing to find how to properly respond to that call.

Admittedly, we are going to learn from Gideon what NOT to do when you know what God has told you to do. His is not a glowing account.

In grasping the call, we saw Gideon questioned God. That isn’t wrong. God doesn’t expect you to just change life’s direction because of a feeling or a whim. If God is seriously calling you to do something, He is prepared to be questioned without becoming upset with you. Three isn’t a problem when you ask mechanical questions, like the Virgin Mary asked to Gabriel “How exactly can that baby happen in me?” The problem comes when our questions come from a heart of disbelief that God CAN do what He said – like the story of Zecharias in the Temple. He essentially asked the same question as Mary: “How can that be?” The difference wasn’t the composition of the question, but the heart from which it came.

Go back to Judges 6 and look at what Gideon DID when God told Him that the Almighty was going to walk with him through the struggles ahead…

Judges 6:17 So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.

Gideon wanted an identity check. He believed God could break the choke hold of the nations on the Jewish people. He just wasn’t sure this guy lounging under a tree was a true and legitimate spokesman for God – so he asked for a SIGN. Many believers today do the same thing. They need God to do something incredible and reaffirming in their midst, or they can’t believe His Word. They haven’t grown past needing the constant affirmation of the miraculous.

I believe there probably were very few men on earth who were as utterly inept when it came to dating as I was when my wife found me. I missed the cues in relationships. It was like there was a class everyone had in relationships that somehow got bumped from my schedule in school. In our early times together, I was so unsure of how she felt, I NEEDED her affirmations to be sure. When she grabbed my hand as we drove down the road, I would think to myself: “I guess she really does like me!” After many years of marriage, I don’t have the daily need to have her somehow prove she loves me. I still love her doing it; but it isn’t essential after three children, more than three decades together, and an untold number of meals made, dishes cleaned and laundry completed… even I get it eventually.

Here is the truth: The believer that needs another miracle, an additional another sign from God just to keep following, really hasn’t really grown up.

Paul established how important it was for believers to love one another while living out their faith at home, in their community and (in the immediate context) in the local church assembly. He made the point in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual manifestations of God and even gifts of the Spirit cannot do what love does. He described the attributes of love, and then turned his attention to the great truth about love: One hundred million years from now, it will be God’s love for us and ours for one another as followers of Jesus that will matter. Our gifts and contributions will fade, but our heart of love for Him, and for one another will not. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The choice to serve with love brings about more lasting results than any other outworking of the Spirit. It is for this reason the Apostle proclaims that “Love never fails” in 1 Corinthians 13:8. At the same time, the need to have signs and miracles as part of daily service wasn’t nearly as important as some thought it was. You see, as each believer grew in faith, they needed to learn to leave the early things they trusted to discern God’s will and direction – and move on to trusting in God’s Word without the other manifest signs and works of God (1 Corinthians 13:10-12).

Experiencing God dramatically becomes much less important when we trust God more fully.

Believers were to grow out of dependence on overt signs from God and simply rest in God’s Word. The signs of God’s profound presence were there in the early days of their walk, but simply became less important as the people grew up. Gideon was just getting started in his walk, so God was patient. At the same time, that didn’t mean that God wouldn’t expect more from Gideon because He pressed God for signs.

In essence, Gideon needed a burned dinner for the sign that God was calling him to lead Israel to war. The text recorded:

Judges 6:18 Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” 19 Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 The Lord said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The Lord is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

The story ends with belief, worship and the smell of a burned dinner. One of the problems of following tests is that they really make little sense when you look at them – but that is for the next lesson. For this time, it is enough if we recognize that…

God offers basic steps to listening for and responding well to His call in your life.

Recently, someone shared with me a story from the book A Man Called Peter by the author Catherine Marshall (who died in the early 1980s). In the book she told of how her late preacher-husband gained his sense of destiny, the serious and enduring sense of call on his life to serve God. He knew the Lord, and he had been considering a path of full-time service to the King. He was struggling with submission – and frankly an enlarged sense of his own abilities. Ego and servant-hood don’t mix. One dark night as a young man debating with his God, he unwisely decided to take a dangerous shortcut across the Scottish moors. He knew there were in the area some deep holes from an old, abandoned limestone quarry along that route, but he was confident that even in the dark a man with his skills and sense could avoid disaster. As he walked along, he heard someone call, “Peter.” There was great urgency in the beckoning voice. Young Peter stopped, turned and responded in the direction from which the voice came:. “Yes who is it? What do you want?” There was no answer. Unnerved but also annoyed, he took a few more steps when the voice called again, with the sound of even more urgency then before, “Peter!” He stopped. He was now becoming afraid. This wasn’t his imagination. He was really quite afraid. As he turned, his foot slipped behind a rounded rock, and he fell to his knees. Turning to place his hand on the ground to push himself back to his feet he realized he was at the very edge of a steep drop into a deep, black, hole. He found the quarry and nearly found his death. He got up, withdrew to the edge of the forest and followed the tree line – a much longer route. No one followed him. He was certain all the days of his life that God preserved his life, and he surrendered.

For Martin Luther it was a terrible storm with thunder and lightning. For Moses it was a burning bush. For you it may be nothing more than the piercing of a hard heart with the arrows of the Word of God. Here is what I know:

• Don’t ignore God’s call when He offers it.
• Don’t worry that you can’t do it.
• Invite the One Who calls you to equip you, guide you, and come along for the journey.

Guarding the Path: The Resistance Factor – Judges 6:1-16

fastDid you ever pass through a time in your Christian life where you were so busy, so intent on your goals in life, that you barely had time to include God? If you are like most believers, you would have to sadly affirm with a “Yes!” Unfortunately, followers of God through the ages have, from time to time, been deceived into thinking they could live their lives successfully in their own strength. For some, it is their natural state – a sort of godless Christianity that is self-directed.

Judges 6 offers the record of a time when God’s people held blessing at an arm’s length and pushed off conscious daily surrender to God in favor of trying to “do life” on their own. The first part of the story reminds us of how tough life is when we try to pull it off with God pushed out to the edge. The second part shows that when God intervened, even the believer He chose to work through tried to give God hoops through which the Holy One should jump. Today’s lesson is taken from the first part of the chapter. I want to take a few moments on my way to Judges 6 to challenge the idea behind the passage, because it is so familiar in our lives, we may miss the power of the lesson.

The scene was simple and perhaps all too familiar: God wanted to work in His people. He wanted to supply their needs, answer their prayers and walk with them through their daily lives – just as His Word makes clear He desires to do with us. Yet, it didn’t happen. They knew God was their God. They knew much about Him from their history – but they didn’t really choose to walk through life daily with Him. As a result, they didn’t experience the blessing of a daily work of God in and through them. The question is: ”Why did they make that choice?” The answer isn’t complicated: the people resisted actively inviting God on their daily journey and consciously yielding to God’s holy presence because they thought it too difficult. I suspect many simply “dropped the habit” of conscious submission. In doing so, they held Him away from them, and God obliged and let them struggle without Him.

Let me offer a simple example. For most of us, we have learned to thank God for our food. For some, it is almost superstitious. They seem to project a feeling they will perhaps be sickened by the food if they don’t “say grace” – a habitual little prayer of thanks. Yet, by doing so, they are daily reminded of two things: God’s goodness and their own constant need of His provision. Some push back and say that because it is often habitual and not always heart-felt, it is of no value. They seem to miss the point: even a habit can help renew in our minds a truth.

In building a routine of daily and deliberate calling upon God to walk through the day with us, we renew in our life the simple truth that God waits to be wanted. He shows Himself profoundly where He is bidden and desired, and where we are watching and waiting for His help. James 4:8 makes it clear that God will “draw near to us” – but only when we “draw near” to Him. We must understand something about God – His only role on the dance floor of life is the leader. He doesn’t play as a second – ever. When we try to “tack” God on the end of our self-shaped and busy lives, He stands back at the edge and allows us to struggle. Only when we are intentionally prepared to acknowledge Him as God, Creator and Master, will He pour out the fullest blessing inherent in His continual and abiding presence. This is an essential part of the meaning behind God’s statement in Hebrews 11:6:

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

• First, God can only be pleased when we see Him as His Word proclaims Him to be. Without seeing Him through what the Word says of Him – it is impossible to please Him, because we won’t understand enough about Him to know what He wants.

• Second, if we desire to know, love and obey Him, we must come to Him recognizing the terms of reward are two: sincere effort to walk with Him and honest acceptance of what His Word reveals about Him.

If I resist His revealed truth, I will embrace lies. If I repel His stated requirements, I will design my own list. My self-made religion will replace His Word in my heart and that won’t get me the result I am seeking. I won’t please him.

We have many examples in the relationships of our daily life of missing blessing because we refuse to recognize what is required of us.

Our boss may have been watching us progress for a time on the job, and wanted to see us get a raise – but our attitude went negative over the last few weeks and we haven’t been performing near our best for some time. He isn’t able to review us in glowing terms, and the company won’t offer an increase unless he does. We can insist they are unfair, but our rate won’t go up.

• Mom has two children in the car that are fussing with each other. She wanted to stop at the ice cream stand on the way home from the ball game, but the children started a fight in the back seat of the car, and she can’t reward them for terrible behavior.

It isn’t that hard to understand the concept that God wants to bless us, but His blessing comes with an acknowledgement of His manifest presence and a heart invitation for Him to walk with us today.

Don’t misunderstand me. God is always in your life – when you acknowledge Him and even when you don’t. We don’t live anywhere where God isn’t. We aren’t talking about His presence as much as we are talking about His blessing – but the terms we use are limited by our inability to truly describe all that God is and does.

Clearly there is a difference between times we walk with God and times we walk with Him at an arm’s length. Here is what we will learn from Judges 6:

Key Principle: For every moment we walk in defiance of God, we place ourselves outside the position to receive the blessings He desires for us, for God will honor our request delay it.

If the blessing of God falls like rain, rebellion is the umbrella that robs us of the joy of wet shoulders. Perhaps the distinction between one who is seeking to walk in obedience can be seen this way: God responds to your recognition of Who He is in relationship to you, and He begins to “fill” your day with a specific sense of His presence. You will experience a “walk” with God when you acknowledge God as God and seek to follow Him. Look at the given example from Judges 6…

The Problem of Distance from God (6:1-6)

Judges 6:1 Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.

Like many believers today, the people knew God from history and believed God theologically, but they weren’t walking daily with God in power. He was being held out away from their lives while they tried to live life on their own. God responded by withdrawing. They pulled away, and He obliged, giving them over to a life they weren’t intended to face.

What exactly did “giving them over” look like? What is the lack of active submission like in a practical way?

First, distance from God showed overtly because they lacked power.

They kept trying to move forward in life, but didn’t have the necessary strength to get free from the bondages around them. The writer noted:

Judges 6:2 The power of Midian prevailed against Israel.

We have carefully noted that the believer who resists God’s daily mastery rejects the blessing that comes with God’s daily presence. They know the distance exists inside. Yet on the outside, one aspect is that life is harder to pull off and temptation is harder to thwart when we are walking in our own strength. The simplest reason for that is that God isn’t in the business of empowering people to be more self-sufficient. When a self-willed believer prays for greater power, God often simply says “no” because it won’t help that person truly grow in Him. Think of it as the Mathematics teacher supplying the proper answer without pressing the student to work the problem in a proper way. It is counterproductive for God to empower wrong thinking and poor behavior.

Second, on a personal level, life became very insecure, so they sought alternative security to insulate themselves.

Look closely at verse two and how it finished:

Judges 6:2b :…Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.

People couldn’t live normally because they were under a bitter bondage. Yet, they didn’t stop and seek God – rather they figured out another way to pull off life. This isn’t as unusual as you might first think.

Stand in a supermarket on any given day and watch the people enter. Some come in the door, haggard by life and obviously under extreme financial pressure. You can tell who they are because of the smoke rising from their exhaust pipe in the parking lot. The car has issues, but they cannot do anything about them because they are flat broke. In they come, filling a cart with groceries for the family. Now observe the “check-out” line. Out comes the plastic card – for there is no money left to buy the food they need.

There are obvious problems with the illustration, but don’t get lost in it. What I am saying is this: people find a way to do things even when those ways don’t make any long term sense. Credit Cards are often a good illustration of this problem.

The people found caves, but a cave isn’t a place to raise a family; it is a place to house sheep at night. The people fled from villages and headed for any place they could get through the night. Instead of turning to God and recognizing the cause of their despair, the people plodded onward. In fact, they had LESS time to think reflectively because of their plight. The enemy delights in lack. He dances over the hungry and hurting. He hopes they will become at least impatient with their Creator and at most despise His holy name. Where the enemy has prevailed in lives for a time, all thinking seems reduced to short term meeting of the next need. Mere subsistence living has the devil’s fingerprints all over it –and you can observe it in many communities in our day.

Third, there was a systemic way to keep them down – because the results of their monumental efforts were constantly and systematically squashed.

The tribesman didn’t simply take the food; they destroyed it and left Israel desolate. The people couldn’t become stronger.

Judges 6:3 For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. 4 So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza,

Don’t look at the defeated believer and think he or she didn’t try hard enough – that isn’t the problem. The central issue is most often the same: they tried and tried and tried – but in their own strength and for their own purposes. They were consumed with meeting their “needs” when the real need was to seek first the Holy One. It was Jesus Who told us in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Do you recall the context of that statement?

• Jesus made plain that in the absence of seeking God first, we will find ourselves serving some other objective to feel our needs will be met (Matthew 6:24)

• He reminded His followers that worry overtakes the ones who find themselves in that state – but worry won’t help meet needs (Matthew 6:25).

• He told the people on that Galilee hillside that God knows how to care for His own, but we must seek Him, rather than the things we want (Matthew 6:26-32).

In the end, we can seek God daily and walk with Him closely, if we choose to do so. We will, when we do that, receive both confidence in our daily steps of life, and a special intimate sense of His watch care over us. For many, we choose rather to strive and strive and strive and end up expending all our energies without inviting God to go with us on the journey. This is one of the simplest lessons to understand, but one of the hardest lessons to truly live out daily, because the default setting of the old man within is “self-oriented.”

Isaiah, seven hundred years before Jesus, made the same invitation to seek God and not simply work to get things in life…

Isaiah 55:2 “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. … 6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.

Clearly, God has offered a repeated invitation to His people throughout the centuries – and now is no different. We can try to fix our nation instead of seeking God. We can work at our marriages, labor at our factories; protest at our rallies – all to no avail apart from the key. If we do not, as His people, seek Him first – the other things will appear to supplant Him and our needs will not be “added to us” because we didn’t simply seek Him first.

When we refuse to seek Him first, the temptation will always grow inside us to cite our lack as the central issue, but the opening verse made clear the issue was between God’s people and God Himself. The rest of the problems were merely symptomatic.

Fourth, God “giving them over” could be dramatically seen in the distended bellies of hungry children.

They simply didn’t have enough to cover their needs. Those families who fled to wilderness areas and tried an alternative like shepherding, found their enemy would find and take their livestock.

Judges 6:4b”…and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.

Think about it for a moment: Look at how heavy life is when we try to do it on our own:

• We face a fallen and aggressive world,
• We deal with the old man within and stand alone at the plow.
• We may drop into bed at night feeling accomplished because we sowed – but we will watch our labors dry up when another reaps the greater part of our labors or our crops are burned by injustice.

Look with horror at how unfair the world was as they drove God’s people to starvation and devastation. Don’t forget that prophet after prophet of God’s people made clear that when a society has no regard for God, routine injustice increases. Stand back and watch in our own time as we disregard our past and our sense of justice evaporates. It is time for the people of God to seek Him first, and take His Word seriously. Repentance begins in the house of God.

The summary statement of all the misery was this:

Judges 6:6 So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the Lord.

Godless men would see the problems as geopolitical, economic and military – but the core problem wasn’t any of those things.

The central issue, the ultimate issue was the people who claimed to be God’s own were walking in mutiny to God. He WANTED to bless them. They placed themselves in a position that made blessing impossible. Do you recall our key principle?

For every moment we walk in defiance of God, we place ourselves outside the position to receive the blessings He desires for us, for God will honor our request delay it.

Did you ever find yourself there? Some problem, person or situation is overpowering you. You can’t get ahead. It seems like everything you worked for is slipping away. If the car wasn’t falling apart and eating your checkbook, house repairs were overwhelming you. Perhaps it was a sickness that swept in and behind it were unending doctor bills and unbearable stress.

It isn’t always because of our sin that such things happen to us – but the problem is that far too often it IS sin, and we know it. Yet, somehow we don’t turn and seek Him first.

We probably know the area in which we are in rebellion and for many we have decided to withhold that area from God. We know what we want, and we have no desire to give it up. Look honestly at the central problem. Don’t skip by God’s analysis of the real problem.

Dear ones, when God’s Word reveals the heart of a problem – you are getting the straight scoop on it. Heaven doesn’t spin news.

Keep reading in Judges 6, and note how God spoke through a prophet to drive the message home more clearly. In the face of confusion and misdirection, God’s Word offered clarity.

God’s First Response: Truth (6:7-10)

God met the heartbreaking cries of His people FIRST with truth. Without that, filling their bellies would have truly taught them little. The writer explained:

Judges 6:7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, 8 that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them,

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”’

As you hear God’s Words echoed from long ago, stand back and listen to the fact that God didn’t even mention the Midianites – not once. THEY were incidental to the real problem; the defected hearts of the people of God. God didn’t want to talk about the economy, politics, injustice or anything else – until He was first in their heart.

The Christian artist LAUREN DAIGLE rightly reminds us of that truth in her song “First.” Her voice echoes:

Before I bring my need, I will bring my heart. Before I lift my cares, I will lift my arms. I wanna know You, I wanna find You, In every season, In every moment, Before I bring my need – I will bring my heart… And seek You First!

Before I speak a word, Let me hear Your voice. And in the midst of pain, Let me feel Your joy. I wanna know You, I wanna find You. In every season, In every moment. Before I speak a word, I will bring my heart. And seek You First.

More than anything I want, I want You First. You are my treasure and my reward. Let nothing ever come before. You are my treasure and my reward, Let nothing ever come before. I seek You First!

Those are good words, and they echo the prescription for the illness that prevailed in Judges 6.

Looking back at what the prophet said, stop and note the MERCY OF GOD in spite of the wrong diagnoses that were widely accepted by the hurting crowds. The people cried out because of the troubles, not because they longed to have God’s presence in worship, or felt the seriousness of their sinful departure from God. Even though they didn’t honestly seek Him yet, still He offered mercy.

Let’s be honest: Somehow we learn to accommodate godlessness in our lives. We can go days without thinking about God at all. We are busy people with big agendas.

Perhaps when we get too sick or frail, when the number of days grow small – maybe then we will get more serious about an intimate walk with Him (we may think). Until then, we seem to easily “get over” the fact that God isn’t happy with us – even though our distance from Him and our rebellion is very costly to us. The people in Judges 6 surely did, but a merciful God met them in their pain in spite of the fact they weren’t honestly looking for HIM as much as RELIEF!

The simple line: “You have not obeyed Me” made clear that God expected obedience based on the fact that He redeemed them from slavery. It is so easy for us to victimize ourselves, and to believe that “someone else” caused our pain. When God spoke, He cut right to the heart… but that wasn’t His only response. He was at work on another level…

God’s Second Response: A Leader (6:11-16)

In addition to the direct answer through prophetic truth that framed the problem for all the people to see, God quietly met with a man and began working a plan to bring tailored relief from the symptomatic issues that caused people to cry out. God was off on “stage right” bringing a leader out of hiding and placing Him in the front of God’s people. The writer explained that once again the choice of God was counter-intuitive but clear:

First, God can choose a person in the wrong place to build His rescue plan.

Judges 6:11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”

It was all well and good to call Gideon and valiant warrior, but the man was hiding in a hole at the time! Nothing about him appeared to be what God pronounced him to be. Why? Because God doesn’t see me as I see me. We evaluate people based on their past performance and present appearance – God looks to the end of the story and sees what He will make of you. He chooses the unlikely to do the impossible, because God is the One Who will bring the victory. On our best day, we are merely USED by the Master.

Second, God can use someone with wrong thinking – someone who doesn’t have all their facts straight.

It isn’t when “you know it all” that you can get started for God. He called Gideon, but listen to the man’s response:

Judges 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Cut it any way you want, Gideon was just plain wrong about what he said. God wasn’t only with His people when things were going well – even though he thought that way. He wasn’t only with them during overt displays and vast miracles. God didn’t abandon Israel – she abandoned Him through mutiny and rebellion. In other words, Gideon offered three sentences to God’s messenger – and ALL three were wrong. We should be impressed, however, with his consistency! As funny as it sounds, he was going to be God’s man of rescue… but it wasn’t because of him, it was in spite of him.

Third, God can choose someone who seems in the wrong position to do His work.

Judges 6:14 The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” 15 He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

You wouldn’t begin a grand expedition by choosing the youngest member of the smallest family – it is an entirely backward choice. Yet, that is EXACTLY what God was doing. He doesn’t work from the top down, and doesn’t care about the ranking of men. The smallest can be the greatest with His touch. The youngest can be the wisest if they will allow Him to be their constant companion and guide. Stop telling God that you don’t have what you need to in order to walk with Him. You sound just plain foolish making excuses to an All-knowing God.

If the secret to God making a servant something useful in a time of crisis is NOT:

• A place which shows great promise.
• Consistent, clear and right thinking about God.
• Someone positioned in the place of natural advantage.

What IS the KEY to God making much of one who would serve Him?

The Position of Blessing in God (6:16)

The writer continued and offered the answer:

Judges 6:16 But the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.

Look at what God offered:

• In His presence, there is victory – found in the certainty of the words “you SHALL defeat”.

• In His presence there is unity – found in the words “as one man”.

A deeply divided country hiding in hovels and holes would stand together and overcome an innumerable foe. How? The presence of God would be in their midst.

The daily presence of God in our lives follows our honest invitation from our heart, the authentic understanding of our mind, the true choice of bowing down in our will and the genuine trust in what God has promised. Someone has said:

Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.”

Here is the truth: For every moment we walk in defiance of God, we place ourselves outside the position to receive the blessings He desires for us, for God will honor our request delay it.

Years ago George Blondin, the great acrobat and entertainer, walked across Niagara Falls on a tight wire pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Having completed the harrowing journey above the churning white water of the rapids, Blondin was hailed as the crowd burst into a thunderous applause. Finally, Blondin spoke to a boy who stood in the front of the crowd: “Son, do you think that I could push you across the falls in the wheelbarrow?” Without hesitation, the boy said, “Sure!” “Fine,” drawled the acrobat, “Now you get in, and I’ll push you across”— whereupon the nervous lad quickly pushed toward the back of the crowd and the security of his mother’s apron. When it comes to trusting God, many of us are like that boy. We believe God can get us across the angry waters of life’s Niagara Falls, but we are not sure we want to take the ride. Belief? We have that. But we are short on trust, and without trust your faith is incomplete. –Sala, Harold. When Your Heart Cries Out to God (pp. 126-127). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Guarding the Path: “A Question of Honor” – Judges 4 and 5

Have you seen a picture, then had someone instruct you about the story behind the picture, and then you saw it again in a whole new light? Let me offer and example:

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_DurerFor several hundred years, people have seen beauty in the detail of the art masterpiece known as “The Praying Hands.” Behind this work of art is a fascinating story of love and sacrifice.

The painter, Albrecht Durer, lived in Europe in the last part of the 1400s and the first part of the 1500s. He left us with paintings, etchings and some “books” of human proportion still studied by art students today.

As two struggling young art students, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein worked as laborers to earn money for their art studies. But the work was long and hard and it left them little time to study art. Finally they agreed to draw lots and let the loser support them both while the winner continued to study. Albrecht won, but he agreed to support Franz after achieving success so his friend could finish his studies. After becoming successful, Albrecht sought out Franz to keep his bargain. But he soon discovered the enormous sacrifice his friend had made. As Franz had worked at hard labor, his fingers had become twisted and stiff. His long, slender fingers and sensitive hands had been ruined for life. He could no longer manage the delicate brush strokes so necessary for executing fine paintings. But in spite of the price he had paid, Franz was not bitter. He was happy that his friend Albrecht had attained success. One day Albrecht saw his loyal friend kneeling, his rough hands entwined in silent prayer. Albrecht quickly sketched the hands, later using the rough sketch to create his masterpiece known as The Praying Hands. (Taken from When we add the story behind the picture, the meaning behind each movement of the artist’s hands creating this pen and ink drawing becomes more significant. There is an emotional expression of gratitude and care that adds to the beauty of the picture.

In the same way that a picture may look better when you know the story behind, sometimes a story takes on even greater significance when you know the events surrounding it. Our lesson today is about a brutal struggle during a terrible war. The events cannot be understood properly sitting on padded seats in an air-conditioned church. This is a story of gore, brutality and bitter war. It comes from a field of blood and sweat, misdeeds of evil men who faced a day of reckoning when God worked through a smaller number of warriors given word that God was about to set them free.

In all that, it isn’t the story you may think it is. It isn’t just a celebration of how God worked in His people during a dark time. There is a story behind the picture we are left in Scripture. This is a story about the kind of person on whom God bestows honor. It is a warning not to throw off your armor and look for another to shoulder your responsibility to follow God’s call in YOUR LIFE.

Today we are looking at the story in Judges 4 and 5. It won’t be clear immediately, but if you listen to the whole story, you will hear this warning…

Key Principle: To be fully honored by God we must choose to fully obey Him in our called work.

When God calls you to do something, you must take that responsibility very seriously. That call may be to be an example of Christian purity in your dating relationships at college. It may be to show relentless patience at work to people who need to know Jesus Christ. Your call is personal and layered – and each part is a “God-revealed” set of goals in your life.

Here is the truth: When we decide to withhold obedience, we forfeit the special blessing God affords those who will obey Him in spite of the appearance of how it will “work out.” God may call you to do something hard, but He will never call you to do something useless. If He wants you to do it, it is because He is working a plan. Let me take you to the text of Judges 4 and show you how this works…

The Story

Israel fell backward into sin and rebellion that angered God once again. Note the opening verses. The text revealed:

First, they walked away from God.

Judges 4:1 “Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord…”

Second, they lost their godly leader.

Judges 4:1b “…after Ehud died.”

Third, God showed them graphically what happened spiritually.

Judges 4:2 “And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. “

Fourth, Israel was bound under a power with superior technology.

Judges 4:3 “The sons of Israel cried to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.”

Now we find the people in a time of terrible bondage. The scarcity of words in the text may make you think it wasn’t all that tough. Stand back and watch as a tribal chieftain drags off your beautiful daughter to rape her because you have no power to stop him and you will understand those times. Work and labor all year long to reap a harvest, only to watch men from a neighboring city come by and steal your harvest and burn the remainders of your field. These were not uncommon events in antiquity for those under occupation. Times of bondage under a bitter hand were nothing short of terrible.

Do you get enraged when you watch the news and see injustice in our government? You are getting only the briefest taste of the oppression of this text…

Note that the cry didn’t make God offer immediate deliverance. Hard bondage is the result of heart mutiny – and that should make us think about our obedience to the Lord in our choices…Our choices have consequences, and that should make us choose more carefully.

Also bear in mind the enemy didn’t just have a technological advantage, they had an overwhelming advantage. God placed them against an awe-inspiring opposition to ensure they recognized their bondage. Israelite foot soldiers standing before chariots would have looked like a man or woman in 1989 at Tianen Men square, standing before a tank. The mismatch was astounding!

Yet, God wasn’t silent. The text continued…

Judges 4:4 “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment.

It may seem irrelevant for God to position a woman under a palm tree on a distant hill, singing and seeking God – but it wasn’t. God was about to speak and that distance from God that started the whole problem – because of the choice of rebellious people – was about to be solved, IF a man named Barak listened to the call of God and made a specific choice to do what he was told. Listen as the writer tells the story:

Judges 4:6 “Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’”

God closed the gap. He wasn’t distant while they languished. He was speaking. Barak appeared on cue. He listened to the prophetess, and all was set to go, to fight and to win. Yet, that isn’t the whole story. Our designated hero had a reservation about the marching orders he was given. Look closely:

Judges 4:8 “Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him…”

Barak didn’t just obey God’s call – he wanted to MODIFY the terms a bit. Perhaps he didn’t believe people would follow him based solely on what Deborah prophesied.

Has the Word of God said something that challenged you to think differently about how you should live than the world around you? It isn’t so hard if that challenge is personal and private – but what if the challenge was in an area that would require you to overtly stand out for God? It is easy to criticize Barak, and then turn right around and do exactly what he did. “God” you may say. “I will do exactly what you have asked, but I need something else from you first.”

Deborah was willing to go with him – but she warned him that compromise on simple obedience came at a price. When we bargain with God about our obedience, we are playing as though we have equal standing and knowledge with Him. We are acting like His command was offered for collaboration rather than for simple obedience. With some reflection, that isn’t a very bright idea. Keep reading…

Judges 4:14 “Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.”

The story seems clear enough. God told Deb to pull aside Barry and gather forces, because God was going to throw off a yoke of bitter bondage. Barry’s men had an edge in the fight from God’s promises through Moses long before under the shadow of Mt. Sinai:

Leviticus 26:7 “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. 9 So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you.” (Leviticus 26:7-8).

Barry had God’s promise and God’s call to be obedient. Yet, his force was smaller and less technologically advanced. Why would the attendance of one woman tilt the scales?

First, it is important to note that God wasn’t asking Barak to stand in front of the chariot firing squad – God had a plan. It was to use Barak and his men as the LURE to draw out the chariots into the fields of the Jezreel.

Judges 4:7 “I will draw out (Hebrew: “maw-shak”) to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many [troops] to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.”

The men of Sisera and Jabin needed room to maneuver, and the flat lands were perfect – unless the unthinkable happened… and God stepped ined. You cannot see God’s fingerprint in the battle of Judges 4, but you can in the song of Deborah in the recount of Judges 5. She sang about a storm and the quaking of the ground:

Judges 5:4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.

Many Bible scholars read this to mean that God interrupted the normal weather patterns with a “desert storm” like the one recorded in Habakkuk. This storm came off the normal pattern from the southern desserts and not from the Mediterranean. The accompanying earthquake may have dislodged some hills and made a tremendous show of God’s powerful interruption. For an ancient fighter, it was surely a sign that God was with Israel.

Wasn’t that what Barak wanted? Didn’t he agree to go with Deborah because it would show that GOD WAS WITH HIM. Look at how SMALL his thinking turned out to be. He wanted a prophet, but God scheduled an earthquake and a desert storm!

Those who study World War II are always impressed by the might of the tank invasion of Russia by Nazi forces. The tanks were formidable and menacing, but they had two weaknesses – the need for a constant flow of fuel to keep going, and the problem of operation in the extreme conditions of the Russian winter. What was a mud pit gave way to a frozen tundra. Russian fighters were fierce, to be sure. Yet, any analyst of that conflict will tell you the Nazi forces were as defeated by the Russian landscape as by the Russian people. Sometimes even the most menacing force can be stopped by the Father of our natural world.

Let’s think about what happened in northern Israel on that occasion. The text carefully completes the scene in Judges 4 of the battle in a little nearby tent, where a woman with a tent peg murders a sleeping general.

When the rain came down and the landscape shook, the iron chariots got stuck in the mud. It was apparent the God of Israel was not on the sidelines in this conflict, and Sisera’s forces jumped from their iron boat anchors and were slaughtered while on the run. They didn’t run alone. The general took off on foot as well. He found a tent in an encampment of a family who wasn’t known to be hostile to the Hazorites, got a warm glass of milk and lay beneath a heavy carpet to rest. Unfortunately, he got a pounding in the head by the woman of the house. He fell asleep and Yael took a mallet and drove a tent peg through his temple, killing the general. At that very spot, Barak would be shown his dead body later in the story.

Let’s face it, the story offers some challenges to our understanding:

• The challenge of the story is that it is told in two ways – once as a narrative (Judges 4), and the second as a lyric poem (Judges 5). Only by combining the two can you get a real sense of the story. You wouldn’t know the weather or earthquake played a role without the song.

• Another problem was the story told of two heroines and a reluctant hero. In days where roles of women are on the minds of many in the world, the story adds questions to those who want to walk with God in propriety. Does the story somehow endorse women as leaders of God’s people? Some argue it does. In fact, every time I hear someone who wants to argue for a woman Pastor, they invariably refer to Deb and Yael, and I am reminded not to “nod off” in their presence.

• Another challenge is the fact that the story offers a gory scene of premeditated murder, which makes telling the story difficult to those who are sensitive of the Biblical norms. My answer to that became clear when I spent time in war on a battlefield and learned that life is surreal in that environment. I hope the few words I offered on the pain of those days helped make this a little clearer.

• Those problems are significant, but they aren’t the real problem of understanding this story. The real issue is the story is related from one culture to another. The world of the Near East is an honor and shame based culture – and ours is not. That is why the “main point” of the story to my Arab or Israeli students is not the same “main point” often discovered by students in the west.

We don’t all approach the Bible from the same world view, and that can get in our way. Let’s take a few minutes to overcome the obstacles if we can. Let’s answer some questions that will help us unpack the challenges:

First, why tell the story twice?

The story in chapter four is meant to help clarify the well-known anthem of chapter five. The song was well-spread, but the story behind it – like the praying hands – was likely less known.

Why does the story seem so strange to the normal tone of the Bible?

Perhaps it helps us, first, to unpack differences in the way we think from the Biblical person.

• For instance, we think of judges as those in long black robes that sit behind a wood desk with a gavel, and pass sentence on the guilty.

• We think of prophets as those wild-eyed men with long beards that look Heavenward and say profound things of God.

Biblically speaking, we are wrong on both counts. Neither were “locked images” in the mind of the Biblical person.

Look at what the people of Israel actually saw: A woman was sitting beneath a tree composing songs and helping people solve their disputes. She helped people find God’s solutions to their problems with one another in a fallen world. She wasn’t an elder at the city gate, but rather a wife under a palm tree perched in the hill country of Ephraim, north of what is now Jerusalem.

Keep looking. This woman was a prophetess. This wasn’t a depressed Jeremiah or prophetic voice like Isaiah. She was a composer and singer of songs. Does that sound strange? It wasn’t that unusual. In truth, many early prophets were composers and singers. We KNOW she was, because we have the “hot hit” she wrote. The Biblical Commentator Adam Clarke noted something that may have escaped your notice in Bible study: “prophesying often implies singing”. Other commentators like Jamieson, Fausset and Brown noted that “instrumental music is called ‘prophesying’” in texts like 1 Samuel 10 and I Chronicles 25.

1 Samuel 10 told of the young Benjamite named Saul and his journey toward becoming king over Israel. The Prophet Samuel told him to approach a procession of prophets, and then identified them:

1 Samuel 10:5 “Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying.”

Other passages like 1 Chronicles 25:1-5 remind us that prophesying was often accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. You may recall Miriam’s song in Exodus 15, and then note that she was called a prophetess.

The bottom line is that Deborah was a woman in touch with God, used by Him, and very wise. She learned God’s song and her constant communion with Him made her voice different. The same will happen to you if you spend deep and rich time with Him this week.

God offers only good words about her. There is not a single word of condemnation – nothing but praise for her faith and service. She was:

• A prophetess – Judges 4:4
• A judge – Judges 4:5
• A woman who was used by God – Judges 4:6
• A self-described “mother in Israel” – Judges 5:7
• And the writer of lyrics – Judges 5.

Does the story offer a basis for women in leadership of the church?

Don’t lose perspective and overplay what is in the text. She was not the head of the nation. She was not called to lead the battle. She did not become the High Priestess of the Tabernacle, or a “Pastor-in-chief.” She was a woman of God to whom the Master spoke. She was not afforded a fixed office, but deeply used by God to encourage a man to lead the nation in war. This isn’t a “Joan of Arc” story. She didn’t don armor to lead the fight. Her work of encouragement, like the work of literally millions of insightful women in history, was invaluable – but doesn’t overrule God’s expressed call when it comes to a modern church and its pulpit. It simply doesn’t apply.

The story is not a nod to feminism or some attempt to stop men from missing the value of women – that is often taught but never really the point. The Bible is clear on the equal value of both men and women, and the different assigned works God has for each of them.

In the home, a woman was not allowed to take a vow before God without the confirmation of her father, or later her spouse. It wasn’t because her mouth was defective. It wasn’t because she was silly-headed and couldn’t think straight about serious things. It was to establish the need to cover her by the men God put in her life. It was more about THEIR RESPONSIBILITY as about HER ABILITY.

Nowhere are we left in the Bible with the blanket impression that women are stupid, under-developed, or unequal. We do, however, acknowledge that there ARE created differences in our bodies. Men who know God and His Word want to protect our women – not abuse them. We want to cherish them, not trample them.

Godly men are ashamed of a nation that would send our women into battle beside our men. Godly men appreciate the voices of godly women. We KNOW God speaks through them, and we learn from them, and feel nothing but gratitude to God for giving them wisdom.

When the Bible says that women should not teach or have authority over adult men, it equally gives her a work of supreme importance in relation to other women and to the precious children God provides to us. The veil of leadership and responsibility for decisions in the spiritual work of the church is a job God designed men to do. When godly MEN do that job, our churches grow stronger and are better protected. When they don’t step up and do their job… the church suffers.

Here is the truth: wise women in the church won’t simply sit back and let that happen. They will encourage the men to get busy, lead and protect. Godly women have always been willing to push men forward.

Another question we need to briefly consider is this: Why the gory presentation of a “death by tent peg?”

As strange as it sounds, this is intended to be a reminder of some simple ironies that should encourage you:

• The height of man’s warfare technology was defeated by a simple pouring of God‘s well-timed gentle rain drops and a mixture of field mud.

• The highest ranking man in the field – a Field Marshall – was taken out by an angry momma with a tent peg.

We should be taking encouragement from this. God doesn’t need an army – just an obedient servant who will act when and where He directs. He isn’t befuddled by the high technology of men who promote their anti-god agenda – He is in charge of vast, quiet, waiting forces that can be employed when necessary. Ask the angry and rebellious Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16) – the earth can open. Watch when the evil one surrounds His people and try to drown them – the thirsty earth can drink the flood (Revelation 12). God has at His disposal massive and limitless power.

God knows that evil has increasingly and powerfully grabbed our educational institutions, our media outlets and our governmental halls. They look big and He looks passive. Never count God out. On a lonely hillside at a gathering of tents is a woman setting up tents for her brood of children – and God is about to use her.

The story may be gory, but the story recounts a terrible moment of warfare, strength from an unlikely source, and man’s ingenuity defeated by God’s powerful simplicity. That’s why the author needed to include the story.

That nasty note brings me back to where we began…the point of the story. Here again, we find ourselves outside looking in to another culture. As western moderns, we want to celebrate the WIN. As near easterners, my students would be consumed with the issue of the passage found in Judges 4:9.

Why is the major issue of the passage “honor” and not “victory?”

Before a single sling is fired or spear tossed, there was a “battle” in the passage. It wasn’t in the field of war – but in the heart of a leader. That’s where battles often have to be put down first.

God told the man what to do through Deb’s voice. He wasn’t ready to do it without an outward, physical sign of God’s presence. God planned one, but Barak couldn’t yet see it and he wanted something more immediate before agreeing to follow the call of God. It isn’t that he disbelieved the call was from God – or her presence would have meant nothing. It is because he wanted to negotiate terms of obedience.

In the end, the central idea of this story is truly about honor. Remember our key principle? To be fully honored by God we must choose to fully obey Him in our call.

Barak had God’s promise and God’s call. Rather than do what God said, he wanted a physical helper. Moses did it with Aaron, his brother in Exodus 4, only to regret that after the golden calf of Exodus 32. Refusing God’s call unconditionally, led to later problems – and the honor that God wanted to give was bestowed on another.

Think about God’s call in your life. If you don’t know what it is, you need to seek it. If you do, you need to follow it.

Why? Because very soon, you will stand before the Savior and see Him face to face.

Some of us will be called home in death. For the rest…HE’S COMING BACK…The greatest man in history, had no servants, yet they called him Master. He had no degree, yet they called him Teacher. He made no medicines, yet they called him Healer. He led no army, yet kings rightly feared Him. He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world. He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him. He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today. His name is Jesus. He is calling you to live for Him.

Soon He returns. When He comes, the Bible says we will all stand before Him. I will know if I followed His call for my life. I will be measured.

He will know, and so will I. What honors have I forgone wasting my life on self-ambition and dead-end projects that won’t last beyond the few years of my sojourn here?

Unless you have lived under a rock or hate all professional sports and don’t hang out with people that like sports, you probably know the name Lance Armstrong. Lance Edward Armstrong (born September 18, 1971) is an American who became famous as a professional road racing cyclist. He was the 1993 Elite Men’s Road Race World Champion, and won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. He has an interesting story… At age 16, Armstrong began competing as a triathlete and was a national sprint-course triathlon champion in 1989 and 1990. In 1992, he began a career as a professional cyclist. He had notable successes along the way between 1993 and 1996, including a World Championship. In 1996, he was diagnosed with cancer. After his recovery, he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now the Livestrong Foundation) to assist other cancer survivors. With a champion’s story, you would think that was the ending newsreel of a life of discipline and training that paid off in incredible dividends. The problem is that Armstrong had been the subject of doping allegations ever since winning the 1999 Tour de France. In 2012, a United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation concluded that Armstrong had, in fact, used performance-enhancing drugs over the course of his career in spite of his full throated denials. They named him as the ringleader of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” He received a lifetime ban from competing in all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Agency code and was also stripped of all of his achievements after 1998, including his seven Tour de France titles. In the aftermath of his fall from grace, a CNN article wrote that “The epic downfall of cycling’s star, once an idolized icon of millions around the globe, stands out in the history of professional sports.”

Isn’t it sad that his career of apparent success was left in ashes?

Let me ask you something.

If Jesus came, right now, and you were brought before His Bema seat as a Jesus follower, what would the end of your time with Him be like?

The Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5 say that if you know Jesus as Savior, you will not face hell, but you will face a performance judgment. Maybe you look to us like you have it all together. So did Lance. Will your Jesus career end as a pile of ashes? Let’s be clear: To be fully honored by God we must choose to fully obey Him in our call.

Guarding the Path: “Counting the Cost of the Test” – Judges 3:1-8

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ñ Marines assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, depart a vehicle checkpoint and patrol back to Forward Operating Base Geronimo May 30. The Marines are a part of the H&S guard force, a group of mostly non-infantrymen who perform infantry duties in the H&S battle space. The patrol was the first the Marines had completed on their own without being accompanied by a platoon sergeant or commander. ÒTheyÕre doing really well, a lot better than I expected,Ó Cpl. Eric Ramirez, squad leader, said. ÒOut on patrol theyÕve been building their confidence. TheyÕre learning a lot and are motivated.Ó  (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

Many years ago, as I was facing graduation from High School, I thought I wanted to join the Marine Corps. In fact, I walked into the recruiting office and signed up. It was clear they offered the best training I could find in the fields of my interest, and they accepted me pending my placement on several cognitive tests and a physical. Strangely, I really enjoyed the battery of tests and did very well, gaining some great pointers from others in testing program concerning how to gain better placement opportunities. In the end, it was at my physical where things fell apart. God used a hernia to disqualify me, and a hospital stay to move me from my path to one of Bible study and ministry.

The Tests

The tests I took were a battery of examinations that included mechanical adeptness, psychological stability and even basic moral understanding. Bear in mind I was very young, and hadn’t yet considered many “life or death” scenario questions. I have a distinct memory of sitting in that old “one piece” high school classroom chair at the recruitment center in Philadelphia agonizing as I read some of the test questions over and over, trying to figure out the desired response of the creators of the test. I wanted to do well, and I wasn’t sure what all the answers were supposed to be. I wasn’t really giving answers based on my convictions, since I didn’t have many yet. I was just trying to tell them what they wanted to hear. It was frustrating, and it was the wrong way to handle the test – but it is what I did. Let me ask you something: Did you ever overanalyze a test to try to figure out what the teacher was truly trying to get from you? That is the subject of Judges 3:1-8, the passage of our study for this lesson.

In the early days of Israel’s settling the land, the author of the Book of Judges revealed that God set up a test. Though it appeared a simple “obedience test” it was much more. It is completely true to say the choice was simple – do what God commanded or don’t. Yet, that is just the surface issue. Let me explain:

A few years ago I got the crazy idea to remodel a bathroom in our home with furniture purchased from IKEA, which I have come to understand now is the Swedish word for “impossibly difficult assembly.” I marveled as I took out of the box the one thousand seventy-seven pieces to assemble a medicine cabinet. OK, maybe it was a few hundred pieces less, but it might as well have been more than a thousand. I followed the directions (sort of…) and assembled the cabinet…several times. Here is what I discovered: Every piece affected the whole assembly. If I left out a piece somewhere, it may not have seemed like a big deal – but later I discovered why that missing piece was essential, and disassembly began. God’s specific directions from the Word are just like that.

The depth and breadth of unintended consequences (when you look at it from the point of view of the Israelites) was vastly more than the people could see at the time of their disobedience. In fact, some of the effects weren’t spotted until generations later. So it is with important tests structured by God.

That is the beginning point of Judges 3. God told Israel to drive out the inhabitants of the land and not mix with them. He told them the source of their strength was not their technology, nor their warring ability – it was their dependence upon Him and obedience to His commands.

Setting the Story

Before we get into the test and its significance, let’s recall from our last study the fact that there is no real way to understand times of national moral, economic and political mayhem without hearing God’s perspective on it all. God was at work in the nation, and God still is at work in nations around the world today. We will never discern the times apart from His revealed truths. Life won’t make sense without His Word – but thankfully, we have it. He pointed to our destination, and then provided a map for the journey.

Let’s quickly set the story of the test in three facts that will become more and more relevant as we study our way through the pages of this book.

First, the account was originally three books. One has been peeled off, and the two others are stuck together in this account in our lap today.

1) Chapters 1-16 recount the period for the “wars of deliverance” beginning with initial defeats of the Canaanites by Judah and ending with the death of Samson. There are seven cycles we will study of God’s rescue and the people’s repetition of failure. There is much to learn from each account, and we will take our time there.

2) Chapters 17-21 are often understood by scholars to be an “appendix” that is apparently unrelated to the historical timeline of the previous chapters, and marked by the recurring phrase “when there was no king in Israel” (see Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). These look like collected accounts of the period put onto the record at God’s direction perhaps by Samuel the prophet.

3) Interestingly, the third book, the “Book of Ruth” was originally collected as a part of the Book of Judges (but later removed c. 450 CE). The small four chapter book was probably included in the scroll because it was set in that time and collected as a memoir of God’s work in one family that became central to the later Bible story – that of King David.

In the end, it is important to see the “meat” of the story as Judges 1-16. In those chapters you will find seven cycles of disobedience and delivery – all pressing the same basic point – disobedience brings disgrace. You may want to mark the chapters in your Bible that way: 1-16 “Seven cycles”; 17-21 “Appendix”.

Second, the people of the book are the Israelites.

The book records a bit more that a 300 year history of the extended family of Jacob, which became the “nation of Israel” as they settled the land during the days of Joshua. After his death, Israel faltered, declined, and backed away from God. The story is a national warning, but it is also tailored to a people who had a history of interactions with their Creator. Just as in our country in our own time, Israel offered a foreboding example of a nation who began with a great heritage of belief and deliverance became increasingly and institutionally hardened against the God that formed them as a nation. The God that had, in days past, been openly acknowledged as the Deliverer and Establisher of the people was now being systematically marginalized. If you are observant, you may feel the same today about your own country.

The fact was that Israel was established by God, and she was given His commandments and covenant, and in our story, she stood on the threshold of taking all the land granted to her ancestors by God. In all of that, God required only one thing in return—her faithful service to Him. In response, she denied the Lord, she defied His law, and they, in turn, she defiled the land – so God let judgment fall.

Is it so very difficult to spot the parallel in our own time and place? After incredible beginnings literally marinated by a Biblical world view, our nation has left little place for God’s recognition, God’s Word or even principles attached to that foundation. We are yet another people who have denied, defied and defiled – and the early results are showing in the fabric of the land. Yet, those who take the time to understand God’s Word and especially those who recognize the pattern from which human parenting is derived, know that even God’s spankings are the function of His love and care. We who study His Word become aware of the reality that people CAN walk with God in the midst of the turmoil that comes from a national turning from Him.

Third, God was still at work in people.

The most encouraging part of diving into this record is the recognition that God didn’t need the nation to do right for God to bless some profound individuals. The book of Judges recorded God elevating individuals to offer temporary deliverance to their nation – most as they listened to His Word. Several brought revivals to the people. All brought hope.

Let’s grab that truth as we look at the test God set up for them. Let’s smile and remember that although we cannot change the nation, we can change our lives to please Him. We cannot change our capitol, but we can impact significantly our little town for Jesus. Let’s let God run the world while we faithfully manage our homes, our offices, our community and our church family!

Look with me for a few moments at the beginning verses of Judges 3.

Judges 3:1 Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them ([that is], all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). 3 [These nations are]: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4 They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses. 5 The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; 6 and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7 The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

Though we are only looking at 3:1-8, much of our time will be consumed on the opening verse. The testing of God is the significant subject. Here is the truth that oozes from the verses…

Key Principle: God’s call for obedience is more significant than it first may appear. We mustn’t forget that disobedience has unintended consequences.

Israel probably couldn’t truly understand the power of obedience to the Lord and what that would produce. In most cases, people don’t. They don’t recognize that following the Lord closely in the raising of your children in one humble tent at the edge of the camp can change a nation for decades.

Let’s make this perfectly clear. Should the Lord tarry and our nation continue, someone is raising a future President. Some Sunday School class may be training a future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces. What happens in small places can have huge rippling effects.

Take a quick look at the first eight verses of chapter three and divide the passage into three simple thoughts:

• First, there is “What God did” (3:1-4). Essentially, God left nations to test His people – and did not assist them in driving them out. If they had obeyed and followed Him, He would have done for them things they could not have done on their own. They didn’t – so He didn’t.

• Next, there is “How people responded” (3:5-7). The mid-point of the passage showed a slide into rebellion. It began in verse five with “living among” and by verse six that gave way to “lived with and married” and finally “served their gods”.

• Finally, there is “How God staged a new learning situation” (3:8). The final note of the section set up the cycles of disobedience we are going to look at more closely in coming lessons. Essentially it was “God’s anger” that caused a “sale” of the people into the hands of hostile pagans.

What God did

God back to the beginning and look at what God did. I count three actions God took that set up the test. Do you see them?

• In the first action, God removing His hand of protection, marked in verse on with the words “the Lord left”.

• In the second action, God turned the perils into a classroom in verse two, marked by the words “Israel might be taught war”.

• In the third action, God staged specific tests found in the words of verse four “They were for testing Israel…”

It is the first action that warrants an even closer look, because it offers a warning that is easy to forget.

God removed His hand of protection. God did not assist the people to drive out the nations before them. He allowed the people to be introduced to struggles they were not, up to that point, prepared to face.

3:1 Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan;

When we don’t walk with God, even as His people, we learn that disobedience has a bigger price tag than it appears. Sometimes God’s judgment is not an action He takes, but rather a protection He withholds. Obedience to His Word brings blessing and protection – but disobedience brings more than simple judgment. It brings the perils of other situations we never even considered before When people violate God’s commands, standards and principles, they lose “a protection fence” that very command placed around them. Often, the fence protected not just ONE thing, but MANY things.

Among the various pieces of the “armor of God” that were mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-20, Bible students read of the “breastplate” – a leather cover over the chest. That protective covering must be deliberately placed over our heart for the purpose of guarding the heart. That breastplate is one of “right choices.” In other words, right choices guard the heart as we move through the battlefield of life in a fallen world.

The Rain Forest Problem

One of the common mistakes people make is what I call the “rain forest” problem. In my lifetime, many a rain forest has been stripped from our planet, as people looked to “tame” the landscape and harvest timber from it. It was only after many plants were gone and habitat disrupted that we came to recognize the number of species we drove to virtual extinction. Why did this matter? One of the unintended consequences of the decision to strip the land was the elimination of many plants, for instance, that had once provided medicinal values that have not been fully tested. What if that stripping eliminated the one plant that could bring the cure for leukemia or heart disease? We won’t know now. One guy’s choice on one afternoon with a backhoe and a personal dream of prosperity may have made the whole world pay a price of a lost cure.

Israel didn’t understand the long term damage involved in their decision making, so they assumed if nothing immediately perceptible that was “bad” happened – the decision wasn’t that problematic. Believers still do this all the time. Nations do it too. Wise is the nation that looks down the road. Wise is the follower of God who heeds this word.

Most of the real pain of disobedience isn’t what you see in the immediate. Unintended consequences of rebellion are often the cause of the greatest grief. Let me ask it this way: “What was involved in the “fence of protection” God set up for them in the desert that was about to come down by mixing with the people?”

I mean, after all, what was so bad about not driving out the inhabitants of the land? What I am really asking is this: ‘Why would “getting along” with the world system be so devastating?’

Don’t dismiss the question – because it isn’t some arcane history reference – you and I are dealing with this right here, right now.

The Importance of Distinctive Living

The answer to the importance of the separation lies in two simple concepts.

First, there is the concept of obedience to the Creator. When God directs, the debate is supposed to be over for the believer. How we feel about God’s standard isn’t the issue – only that God knows what we don’t – so we obey. He knows what we don’t know about risk, and we must learn to trust His Word more than our own rationalization.

Have you ever watched a movie and found yourself siding with the adulterer and not with the faithful partner? I have. Hollywood is great at weaving a tale that can easily draw you into a compromise of any value. Rationalization is often the fruit of such a “set up.”

In fact, whenever I read some compassionate sounding article that tries to get me to feel sympathy for someone who has a lifestyle that is in open rebellion to God’s Word, I recall a famous quote by Alexander Pope:

Vice is a monster, of so frightful mien
As to be hated – needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This is the method of the enemy.

First you notice the rebel and their way repulses you. When you see enough of them (say on show after show, night after night) they become a common part of the landscape. Soon your mind accommodates those who rebel. Then you sympathize with those who feel like they don’t quite “fit in” with you. Some critique your “stand-off-ish” behavior, and you respond by embracing them out of compassion. Eventually, you accept the premise of their ideals – even though at first you would have been able to see through the truth. Slowly, you drop your objections that were rooted in God’s Word. For a time, you feel like you all have unity… until the national ship sinks, or until the next generation is so tainted by the picture that rebellion begins to seem acceptable.

I know mentioning this is counter to our culture – because “unity” always seems a kind word and “distinctiveness” sounds like a divisive one. Here is the truth: obedience to God will often be framed as the “problem” by a world in rebellion.

King Ahab thought Elijah the Prophet was the problem of Israel – not his sinful marriage and pagan practices.

When God told them to separate from the tribes and be a distinct people, He meant not emulate, accommodate or try to comfort the tribes in pagan revelry around them. He meant not to learn to “hum their hot hits”, sing their sensual songs and laugh at their course jokes.

I don’t know another way to say this: God is less interested in a believer fitting in to the world than the modern church appears to be.

Israel could walk in humility before God – and that would produce a loving and faithful testimony. They didn’t need to be harsh to be distinct – and we don’t need to be either. Here is the key: When a believer is more worried about offending the world’s sensitivities than offending the God they claim to serve – they are off track. This isn’t about the world and their natural fallen desire to get us to conform – it is about disobedience in standing against being “pressed into the mold of the world”.

God told them not to accommodate the world, because they couldn’t handle their presence long and remain distinct. He told them to remain separate – but the pressure to be like the world around them was powerful and profound. Ask any believer… it still is!

Are we really any different? What is the price tag of laughing at the world’s degraded humor on a sitcom in our living room? What is the total bill? When and how will it be paid in the lives of our children and our nation? Can you predict the outcome of the lack of separation we have allowed in our homes?

Let me be clear: We raised some of the most anti-god legislators in our own lazy, indistinct churches and colleges.

We must recognize that God’s Word warned the believer that a lack of separation from the world would launch a barrage of unintended consequences.

The World’s Mold Press

The Bible refers to the system operated by fallen men who do not know God in simple terms; it is called “the world.” This fallen system of influence currently dominates the planet because of the agenda of a wicked prince of the air. It wasn’t like that in the beginning. When God created the world it was “good”, but that was before the rebellion in the Garden. The cosmos was radically altered when sin marred the perfect design. For that reason, Paul wrote in Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

Even in the current state, some part of God’s original design can still be seen in the world’s design. God’s finger prints are still there. Again in Romans 1:20 we read: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” In addition to fingerprints of the Creator, God’s Word reveals that He retains ultimate power over the fallen world. The Apostle John wrote of Him: 1John 4:4b “… because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

To be clear: In its fallen state, the world system has developed an opposing sense of wisdom to God’s truth and is easily inclined to misunderstand and even hate those who trust God – because they live in a state of rebellion against God and His standards. Scripture abounds with reminders like: 1 John 3:13 “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you”. Other similar reminders warn: Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

In other words, the system of the world is both temporary, and bound for destruction in hostility against God. They dream of things that won’t matter and won’t last. Believers are told in Scripture, therefore: 1 John 2: 15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

The fallen world is constantly pressing you to be in its mold. People increasingly demand that morality be established by popular vote.

Can we honestly say that we live in a generation of believers that do not love exactly what the world loves? Do we live distinctly?

Perhaps it is time for us to remember that our salvation was (in part) to pull us out of the world system and empower us to walk in a way pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

Galatians 4:3 says were WERE “in bondage under the elements of the world” but through our salvation Jesus (Galatians 1:4) “gave Himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father”. Paul described God’s salvation as (Ephesians 2:10) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Though the current status of the fallen world is operated under Satanic dominion (Ephesians 6:12), our real problem is that it is possible for a believer to show greater allegiance for this fallen world then for the things of God by their walk, as Demas did in 2 Timothy 4:10.

It isn’t impossible for believers to please God while in this world, but only if we intentionally walk in the distinctiveness of living according to the instruction of His Holy Word.

As surprising as it sounds to some – that isn’t a message of works, but the very essence of the message of God’s grace. Listen carefully to the words of Paul to Titus:

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of [h]our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all [i]authority. Let no one disregard you.

Paul said: Grace appeared and delivered salvation – but that isn’t all it did. Grace also instructs us to deny ungodliness in our lives as believers. It doesn’t provide license, but rather calls us to walk away from making our lives about what the world values. We are called by grace to live with sensitivity toward God’s desires for us. We anticipate, not the lauding of the world, but the coming of the Lord. Jesus saved us to remove us from living a life of rebellion. He is working in us to purify us and make us hungry to do what pleases Him. That is at the heart of our message.

Indistinct living brings calamity.

Mixing our walk with the world’s values will bring immediate popularity – but long term disaster. The world doesn’t want a distinct church. It wants a harmless, toothless, pablum-filled, sentiment-based church. It wants a church of happy thoughts and hapless behavior that offers reinforcement to any popular sin. Look down at verse 8, and you will see the calamity… God’s anger and man’s enslavement..

Judges 3:8 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

God’s call for obedience is more significant than it first may appear. We mustn’t forget that disobedience has unintended consequences.

What will be the consequences to a nation that defines its core unit of family on the whim of those who act in flagrant rebellion against the Bible? How will parades look in the coming years when sensuality and vulgarity are openly accepted? What will our nation look like when open hostility to believers is widely accepted as justified?

Get a bit more personal for a moment. What will your children grow to be like when they emulate the TV shows you have watched and the movies you have talked about? Listen to the lyrics of the songs you have stored in your heart from the world. Do you want your children to live out those values? People often make the mistake of thinking they can see ahead clearly:

The term cobra effect stems from an anecdote set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.

Are you SURE you know what your compromises of obedience truly cost?

Guarding the Path: “Outcome Based Obedience” – Judges 3:7-14

selective hearingThe problem in today’s lesson can be boiled down to one of “selective hearing.” Do you know someone (or are you perhaps married to them?) who hears only part of what you say?

Let’s admit it. Sometimes we don’t get the whole story, but we think we did! Consider for a few minutes the truth involved in hearing part of the Word…

All the way back to your classwork at school, you learned to grasp the concept of “outcomes.” If you studied hard, you probably got a better grade. Later, you entered the working world and got a job, so that your faithful labors entitled you to a paycheck. This is simple effort and benefit, work and outcome. In my lifetime, the idea of “outcomes” was applied to education (called OBE, or “Outcome-based education”). This was a learning theory floated in the public educational system beginning with the generation that graduated from college in the 1960’s, amid the turmoil of that period. It was an “equality” based idea that many paired with the desegregation movement of my youth.

The idea was this: education should provide an experience in which each student should have an achievable goal presented, and each should be able to attain that goal through their individual learning style. The role of the teacher was reduced from authoritarianism to more of a trainer or facilitator and/or mentor. In light of the rebellion of our youth, some thought it necessary to apply more “reasoning apparatus” to help students draw their own conclusions and reduce the sense of gap between authoritarian teacher and student. By the early 1990’s, the United States formally adopted OBE programs and it has been somewhat adapted over the years.

The American people seemed eager to accept drastic surgery on our public education system and state departments of education seized the opportunity to press acceptance of OBE as the cure. The theory collided against parents across America who were even more agitated than they were about explicit sex education. Thousands gathered in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio in reaction. For many, it felt like the schools were “dumbing down” information to help those who were slowest to gain some mastery of the fundamentals. One parent expressed it this way: “If OBE were applied to basketball, the basket would have to be lowered so all could score equally.

This is not an attempt to evaluate OBE education, but rather to explain the term “outcome-based” as it applies to a community and standards. In this lesson, I would like to apply the term to an elemental understanding of how God works with people. It will take some time and patience to grasp this idea, but I believe it will be well worth your time.

Let me set up the subject this way: I believe immature followers of Jesus struggle because of a wrong concept that was, and is, often unintentionally taught from the Word in an incomplete way. One of the chief places where that wrong understanding is derived is the book we are studying, the Book of Judges.

Think of it this way: Many believers learned a form of “do right to get right” thinking. The idea is this: If I obey God, my life will go well. An offshoot of this can be found in the faulty giving strategy” “Give a dollar and God will give back ten-fold.” The problem is, while these things may happen, God has NOT guaranteed them to happen in every believer at every time as some teachers seem to claim. In fact, the Word is filled with people like Job, Daniel and early Christian Apostles who “did right” but received in response either trouble, persecution or pain.

The truth is more complicated than just “do right and get right” because life is measured by God in eternal terms, not temporal terms. The outcome we should be expecting for choosing obedience and placing our trust in God’s Word should reflect that thinking. Here is the truth for the mature believer’s understanding…

Key Principle: The prize of life isn’t material blessing, but a walk confident of the presence of God.

To understand this concept, let’s first explore where this “outcome-based” obedience thinking came from in the text of Scripture – because it IS represented in Scripture, but is not the whole picture. Knowledge of partial truth is often dangerous.

Knowing that a car needs fuel is only part of the story. Knowing which type of fuel must also be a part of that knowledge. Recognizing you need a tank with you to dive into the depths of the ocean is important, but having it filled with oxygen is also an important part of the survival puzzle.

Look at a few verses that set up a pattern for much of the Book of Judges. The chapter (Judges 3) offers two of the “seven cycles of sin” presented in Judges 3-16. Remember, that is the core teaching section, because after Judges 16:31, the rest of the “book” contains unlinked stories in what could be called an “Appendix section.”

The First Sin Cycle Illustrated: Othniel delivers Israel from the Mesopotamian domination (3:7-14)

Watch for the pattern that will unfold in seven repetitions through chapter 16. First, note the sin that set the cycle in motion (3:7):

Judges 3:7 The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.

• They did evil (3:7) – or they “actively performed works that dishonored God.”
• They forgot God (3:7) – they lived life on their own and didn’t walk with God deliberately and daily.
• They served Baals and Asheroth (3:7) – they diverted their devotion from God to better accepted expressions of religious fervor that were more publicly accepted by those around them.

When sin’s seed took root, the Lord responded. Note that His response was the distance they seemed to want. It is hard for people to understand that God is not pushy. He waits to be wanted. The sadness is that many live life without the understanding of how much they need Him. In our distance from Him, it is our life that withers; our vitality that slips away…

Now observe how their spiritual servitude of another was illustrated in physical bondage (3:8):

Judges 3:8 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of [j]Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

• The anger of the Lord was kindled (3:8). Don’t forget two important Biblical concepts we have studied in the past:

First, because God does something doesn’t mean we can justify doing it. God can boast, because the truth is that He is the highest and best – we cannot. He can be angry and respond with perfection –we cannot. Jesus could hang out with the dregs of society and yet not sin – we need to be very careful about thinking that licenses behavior on our part unless the Word explicitly invites that behavior.

Second, remember that emotional terms when applied to God often have very different meanings than when applied to men. God is not a man. He is also the only One Who is what He is. Every descriptive term applied to God needs to be examined as “God the One and Only!”

• He sold them into hands of foreign king (3:8). The “sale” on earth was a symbolic symptom of what their hearts already did. People were designed to serve God. Absent that truth, they will fill their hearts with the gods of fortune, fame, power or pleasure – and try to find solace in these others. Instead of freedom which comes from living out the truth, they will find the substitutes to invariably lead them into slavery.

Only when the world around us falls apart and our enslavement is apparent to us, do we begin to seek God for relief. In that moment, we don’t actually want God – just relief from the physical struggles. Yet, God listens and uses that broken heart as an opening…Watch for their cry or “supplication” to God (3:9a):

Judges 3:9 “When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD…”

Enter the strong hand of the Saving God. Note God’s rescue, deliverance or “salvation” (3:9b-11):

Judges 3:9b”…the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of [k]Mesopotamia into his hand, so that [l]he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.

The outcome of God’s hand is a time of rest from the struggles. As God’s rescue stabilized the people, they experienced national security and stability (3:9b-11):

Judges 3:11 Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

Security can easily lead us to complacency about our walk with God – even though the security is derived from our walk with Him. Watch as the forty years of peace gave way in a new “slide” away from God (3:12-14):

Judges 3:12 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. 13 And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and [m]defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees. 14 The sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

That’s the pattern, and it will be repeated six more times:

cycles of sin• Sin: walking outside the expressed commands of God’s Word.
• Servanthood: invariably sin leads to a penalty of enslavement and bondage, a heightened insecurity.
• Supplication: the bondage leads even the hardened believer to cry out in pain and promise to walk straight!
• Salvation: the Lord responds to the call of the wounded heart, in an effort to teach us His faithfulness – even in our disobedience!
• Security: the people enjoyed a time of national freedom and external stability.
• Slide: the problem is, when relief comes, we slide back to old habits.

In the end, there is a clear and unmistakable truth that Godly leadership in national life brings peace. The lack of it produces increased tension and strife both at home and abroad. In addition, it should also become clear that Israel’s servitude of other nations was meant as an illustration of the loss of privilege of serving God!

How do I know that is what God intended us to grasp from this historical account?

That’s a fair question. The account is a history, and God uses history to teach us deeper lessons. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul spoke about Moses and the children of Israel coming through the heat of the desert grumbling and disobeying God. Paul made the specific point that” 1 Corinthians 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” If you intensively study the Word, it appears this is not an unusual feature of God’s use of history in the Biblical text.

Let’s look at it in this case…

First, remember the pattern teaches something important:

Cycle One: The sin of Israel started the problem of the first cycle of learning (3:4). Eight years of servitude to Cushan-rishathaim of Mesopotamia followed (3:8). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 3:8, resulted in God providing Othniel, nephew of Caleb, to bring about 40 years of stability and security (3:11).

Cycle Two: The sin of Israel started the problem of the second cycle of learning (3:12). Eight years of servitude to Eglon of Moab followed (3:13). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 3:14, resulted in God providing Ehud, son of Gera (3:15) and Shamgar, son of Anath (3:31), to bring about 80 years of stability and security (3:30).

Cycle Three: The sin of Israel started the problem of the third cycle of learning (4:1). Twenty years of servitude to Jabin of Hazor followed (4:3). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 4:3, resulted in God providing Deborah and Barak (4:4-5:31), to bring about 40 years of stability and security (5:31).

Cycle Four: The sin of Israel started the problem of the fourth cycle of learning (6:1). Seven years of servitude to Midian chieftains followed (6:1). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 6:1, resulted in God providing Gideon, son of Joash (6:7-8:27), to bring about 40 years of stability and security (8:28).

Cycle Five: The sin of Israel started the problem of the fifth cycle of learning (8:33-35). Three years of internal national servitude to Abimilech’s tyranny followed (9:1). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 9:22, resulted in God providing Tolah, son of Puah (23 years) and Yair the Gileadite (22 years, 10:1), to bring about about 45 total years of stability and security (10:2-3).

Cycle Six: The sin of Israel started the problem of the sixth cycle of learning (10:6). Eighteen years of servitude to Philistines and Ammonites followed (10:7). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 10:8 (cp. 10:14), resulted in God providing Jepthah (six years), Ibzan (7 years) and Abdon (8 years, cp. 12:7ff) as part of His plan to bring about 31 years of stability and security (12:7-14).

Cycle Seven: The sin of Israel started the problem of the seventh cycle of learning (13:1). Forty years of servitude to the Philistines followed (13:1). The cry (supplication) of God’s people in 13:1, resulted in God providing Samson, son of Manoah (13:24ff), to bring about 20 years of stability and security (16:31).

It is clear, then, the cycles are quite consistent and offer the same picture over and over. One may extract from that pattern this is THE ONLY THING WE NEED KNOW to recognize the hand of God at work – and that would be WRONG.

Second, carefully identify how forsaking God was highlighted as the key reason for trouble and an end of internal and peace and external stability.

You see the terms “forgot” and/or “forsook” God at the beginning of each problematic time in places like 3:5-7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 8:33-35; 10:6 and 13:1. The physical bondage of God’s people was illustrative of their own choice.

That’s worth remembering. People often highlight “bad things” that happen to them, but not the choices about their walk with God that led to the circumstances. Very often, tough circumstances are symptoms of something more. Most often, they are unintended consequences of spiritual hardening. Others cannot see our heart, but we know that was often at the center of the problem if we have learned to be sensitive to God’s Spirit.

Third, note how Scripture identifies an example or leader as the pivotal issue in following God’s way.

Don’t neglect another important issue God wanted to be clear to the nation. Most every cycle from the second to the seventh began with a note of the leader or rescuer’s death. We read: “Othniel died in 3:11; Ehud “died” in 4:1; Gideon “died” in 8:32; Jair “died” in 10:5 and Abdon “died” in 12:15. If you follow the cycles, the death was linked to the forsaking of the people. Let’s say it again so we are clear: Godly leadership in national life brings peace. The lack of it produces increased tension and strife both at home and abroad.

If you are godly and engaged in leadership – your example matters. Your testimony may be holding back the enemy in the lives of your children and grandchildren. Your prayer is not wasted and your example is not superfluous.

It is clear that God intended the nation to recognize the need for leaders, the need to walk with Him, and the need to resist a slide into spiritual bondage that would end up in physical bondage. But there is a problem if that is all we learn from our study of God’s Word in this section.

Young followers in Jesus take the lessons of the nation and unconsciously transfer them to a formula: “Do right and get blessing.” By that, they mean blessings of peace and prosperity in this life. The Sunday School version of Judges can be reduced to this: “When the people walked with God, the Lord brought them peace.”

That’s fine in itself, but that lesson must be matched by other lessons in the Word to offer the whole picture, or we will fail to identify other ways God works with us. That “truth brick” must be fit into the wall with other truth bricks of the same value taught elsewhere. If we fail to place this vital lesson in the context of other places in the Word, we are likely to be frozen into a “give to get” mentality. Many believers end there.

They say: “Do you want prosperity and happiness? Simply obey God! It is a guarantee.” The problem is: if your prize is temporal – it may not work. That doesn’t always work, because it isn’t a whole picture, and it doesn’t measure things the way God does.

• With Job, God’s lessons to the angelic world were more important than Job’s comfort.

• With Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah God’s testimony through the men before the godless government was a more important agenda than their apparent safety.

• With Peter and John, God’s call for standing with Him, against the authorities that were calling them to abandon obedience to God’s call, was more important for the growth and testimony of the early church than the Apostle’s freedom of movement.

• With the first century carriers of the message of the Gospel, it was more important they showed absolute trust in God’s Word for the spread of the faith, then that their lives be spared.

• In the history of the church, a great many were martyred because God saw fit to increase the message of the church through the sacrifice of their lives.

Here is the mature believer’s understanding: Individual obedience doesn’t guarantee material peace and prosperity but does guarantee confidence and the sense of God’s presence as we follow Him.

Outcome-based thinking is about a “pay off” for the effort. Heaven becomes a “paycheck” for “good living” and obedience in cases like that. The problem is, the prize isn’t Heaven – it is unending time with God.

A more accurate way of looking at the truth is this: Obedience brings confidence in God’s continued presence with us. It bolsters our sense that He is guiding us as we walk through the darkness of a fallen world. The reward will be the full manifestation of the presence of God in a perfect and eternal habitation. It will be time enveloped in Him and surrounded by continual light.

What then, is the purpose of this record in Judges? There is a consistency of God’s Word in this regard: Whereas individual obedience doesn’t guarantee peace and prosperity – but rather the presence of God, collective national obedience seemed to do both. Nationally, the Bible is filled with examples of God’s call to His people to walk closely with Him (as a national entity) and receive a measurable series of blessings along with a sense of His presence.

Since we don’t really have “Christian nations” in this time, and since most of the history of the world has not had them, how does this lesson help us?

First, we have seen what happened when God’s Word was, to some greater extent, upheld as the basis of justice. Because our following of it was incomplete, so were the blessings of it. At the same time, how can one ignore the results?

Second, without a Christian nation, we are not fully exempted from the national plan of obedience. There are still things for which believers remain in charge. To that end, 1 Peter 2:9 appears to transfer the need to seek God among the “nation” of the believers, regardless of what the national entity under which you are living does.

These truths, then, set the tone for the rest of the study of this book. We “guard the paths” of the nation when we exemplify Biblical understanding, Godly justice, Spirit-filled compassion and holy fires of righteous desire as His people. When we apply that, we live it in the church, and lovingly persuade for it in national life where we are given opportunity.

• To be clear, we teach, study, examine and follow God’s Word in the church. Our main objective is not to attract the world by what we do, but to grow the believer and allow the attitudes and community produced by the results of that teaching in transformed minds to attract others. If we “lift up Jesus” by teaching and showing “Cross life” service and selflessness – others will be drawn.

• In public life, we can indicate the Biblical truth that “the works of the flesh” as enumerated in Galatians 5 bring about increased pain and peril to the cohesiveness of the community. We can show a sharp point to the contrast of the ethic of deliberate obedience (even with its human limitations) to God’s Word as a nation, and show how the increasing departure from those points have weakened the nation.

When the church is focused and growing and the world begins to feel the fragmentation is too great in their society, the soil becomes ripe for a revival of the land. Revival has been based in the past on the concentration of believers on two objectives: careful following of Jesus among the believers and confident testimony before the world. The final ingredient is the variable – the will of the Spirit of God. Again, doing right will give the church confidence and an inner sense of peace in God’s presence, not necessarily a revival. Careful obedience invites God to work in us and our national home while it offers the greater guarantee of His pleasing smile on our efforts. God is happy with His will done His way.

The prize of life isn’t material blessing, but a walk confident of the presence of God.

It is only in obedience and constant, deliberate surrender to God’s direction that we have enduring confidence about life’s circumstances. Troubles in such a life become opportunities to sit at the Master’s feet or cry in His arms. Victories become joyous occasions of dancing with the Master.

Can we not admit that we simply don’t understand the lessons of God in this life? Often we think God isn’t giving us what we need, when He is giving us all we need by standing beside us and walking through life with us.

I read recently the story of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be over matched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.” Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion. On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind: “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?” “You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.” The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength. When he trusted his master and listened to his voice – he was able to attain victory.

• More than wealth, you want to walk with the Maker of all the things wealth can buy.
• More than fame in the eyes of the fallen world, you want your Creator to inscribe your name in His book.
• More than command of thousands, you want to hear the commendation of the One Who alone can say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!
• More than comforts of this life, you want to stand in Heaven at home with the God Who brought you to Himself.

Don’t focus on the mirage of now. The prize is there. The prize isn’t streets of gold. It is unending, intimate time with the God Who made you.

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to wait until you die to begin to experience a taste of the prize. You can invite God into your daily walk, your business meetings, and even your quiet walks in the woods. You may look alone to others, but you will know that you are not. You are nibbling at the prize that will one day be your total reality.

Guarding the Path: “Getting to the REAL Story” – Judges 1 and 2

DirectionThere is an old saying: “There are two sides to every story.” The saying persists, because though it is not always true – it is often true. In our modern world of two political narratives and a divided nation, it has become the “go to” explanation of things…

This week in our nation, that old saying could easily have been employed when a man selling CDs in front of a convenience store was shot and killed by a policeman. Was the man reaching for a gun? Were the police on the scene overzealous or biased against him? The hope for the truth is being placed in the number of cameras that recorded the events, and on the testimony of policeman and the handful of bystanders. Scanning the TV, you will find two very different stories here. One will tell of the man’s many egregious violations of the law throughout his life; the other will speak mainly of his skin color, statistics of police brutality, and counting the number of shots fired. Americans have two narratives to follow, and two framings of the same tragic story… and many aren’t sure what to believe, or what truly happened. The ones who are surest are the ones who don’t need the evidence to draw a conclusion.

During the same week, an FBI Director went on camera and described a series of security lapses and mistakes performed by a former Secretary of State of our country. The fact that the Secretary’s mishandled email included classified materials is clear to all but to the Secretary herself. The fact that these materials were handled in ways that have gotten other citizens terminated from secure positions and (in some cases) even jailed is not under dispute. The issue outlined by the FBI was this: it didn’t appear intentional and the Secretary probably didn’t mean anything wrong by it – for the technology was evolving and there was bound to be some misunderstanding in it. Americans were left with two sides, both with their respective pundits and media outlets. Some will trace a trail of her statements that don’t seem to line up with what we have been told; others will dismiss the record as strictly a political attack over a simple lapse in judgment and move on. We have two tales about the emails.

We can all agree it is getting harder to see what is really going on in one story after another.

It seems the right time to begin our series called “Guarding the Path” from the Book of Judges. It seems we can identify a time when “everyone did that which was right in their own eyes.” Yet, the series is designed to encourage you, not itemize the problems of our time.

If you look closely at Judges… God was mightily at work in a few, while the nation was passing from one tumultuous time to another. Consider for a moment that God explained why the times were so bad and His deliverance seemed largely withheld. He said:

Judges 2:21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.

Did you notice the Lord’s hand for the advancement of the nation was removed?

It was an intentional act of God. I do not know if that is happening to our nation – all I can say is that it appears as though that may be the case. I will not fixate on that part of the story – because that is God’s part. Rather, let’s look, as we follow the series, for the ways we can pass the test. In Judges 2:22, the purpose of the failures, reversals and struggles of the nation were for God to test His people and see if they would guard what He called “the way of the Lord”. Let’s make that our focus. Let’s seek to find ways to walk with God in the midst of the tumult.

The truth is, we can’t change the guardians of our country in Washington much, but we can change our guardianship of the truth in our homes, in our church, and in our life. We can’t make people recognize how many lies we have come to accept in our society, but we can know truth and lovingly but stubbornly communicate it in the forums where God places us.

Look at Judges 1 and 2 for a few minutes. I want you to consider the record we have as a view offered when God folded back the curtain from Heaven and made clear the second view of the story of a sliding nation. I want to persuade you to recognize a truth that I believe can be uncovered from a careful study of these chapters…

Key Principle: The upheavals and struggles of national political, economic and social strife cannot be understood without recognizing the spiritual battles raging behind them.

The first two chapters of Judges tell the same story two times. There are two stories of what happened in the generation that followed Joshua.

• The first one is the “Nightly News” perspective that could have been told by any reporter, found in Judges 1.

• The second was a more delicate perspective – that of the “spiritual realities” behind the moral and political slide by those who walked away from God.

What the world noted in a strange string of events could only truly be understood in terms of their underlying spiritual reality.

The News View

Drop your eyes into the first chapter, as we read about a vulnerable time in their national life, because there had been a hole in their focus as they entered and conquered the land.

Judges 1:1 Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?”

With all the victories, the most noticeable lack was that of leadership. They took the lands and settled the hillsides, but neglected to look more deeply at the children that were coming behind them to eventually lead God’s people. When the training of the children was allowed to drift away from God because so much emphasis was placed on public leaders and symbols, the hearts of the children weren’t intentionally tenderized toward God.

This is an essay for the country that addresses its economy, but not its moral instruction. This is a cautionary tale for the church that raises money and builds buildings and packs programs, but doesn’t look to constructing leaders who will take over in a few short years.

As we keep reading, we see that at the time when the people were vulnerable, it was the Word of God that empowered them…

Judges 1:2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.

Prayer and listening to God filled in gaps that should have been planned by “prayer-soaked” leaders. They should have been intentionally building their leaders – but they weren’t. The good news was that God still spoke, and His Word made clear what they needed to do next.

By verse three, we can easily recognize the empowering that came through an obedience pattern. When God called out the objective, the leaders looked to build a team to execute God’s plan…

Judges 1:3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him.

Judah had God’s promise, but he also had a family to help him accomplish God’s work. So it is with believers who are called to walk in victory during times of tumult and uncertainty. We live in days when the government will increasingly move from not identifying the need of the church to actively seeking to overtly curtail our work and even weaken the church – and I believe the intentional teaming of believers will emerge as the only pattern that will bring success. You will watch as churches fold or grab hands with other churches to rebuild and remain in the strong winds of our time. Judah reached out to Simeon – because teams are necessary.

The next few verses offer some initial words of success that are encouraging as God gave them victory over the enemies… We read in Judges 1:4 Judah … defeated ten thousand men at Bezek. We read of a pursuit against a chieftain: 1:6 But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

The thumbs and toes were not a macabre collector’s item – they were the symbolic ways of removing their method of stringing a bow. In other words, they broke the leader’s ability to reform an army and attack later. The Israelites knew that living in harmony with those who wish you harm is impossible if you don’t eliminate their potential to do more harm.

Even more encouraging than the immediate victories was the notion that God gave them a testimony before the lost world… Judges 1:7 reminds that Adoni-bezek said, “…God has repaid me.” So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.

Don’t miss the import of what the captured king said! He noted that GOD did to him what was done. This wasn’t just an admission of how strong the people were, but how strong God is! The victory was a striking testimony to the lost.

More encouragement followed…There was another victory…

Judges 1:8 Then the sons of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire.

And another….

Judges 1:9 Afterward the sons of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country and in the Negev and in the lowland. 10 So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.

And though the army experienced victory, there is a note about at least one prominent family, and the attention they gave to an entitled child.

Judges 1:11 Then from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir (now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher). 12 And Caleb said, “The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife.” 13 Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife. 14 Then it came about when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. Then she alighted from [h]her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 15 She said to him, “Give me a blessing, since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.

entitled-child2I find it ironic the first negative record in the text began with a child of the next generation who had these opening words in the narrative: “Give me!” The words that followed were: “So he gave.” It is clear from verse 1 there was not enough intentional training of the children, but here it seems they learned how to get what they wanted! Mark that in your text – it is the first smudge in the string of victories. After that strange note, the victories continued for a time…

Judges 1:16 The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms … and they went and lived with the people. 17 Then Judah went with Simeon … struck the Canaanites living in Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah.

With even greater family support, Judah continued to win victories. The Kenites joined the house of Judah and added it strength – and the results were obvious.

A second negative record sneaks into the narrative if you keep reading it. As they continued they ran into some places where they found themselves lacking the technology to drive out the inhabitants.

Judges 1:18 And Judah took Gaza with its territory and Ashkelon with its territory and Ekron with its territory. 19 Now the Lord was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.

The writer makes clear “The Lord was with Judah” but leaves open the question of technology and why God wasn’t routing the people from the valley on behalf of His people. Remember, in the “nightly news” view – this is merely a leftover curiosity! In Mount Judah, the people continued to advance…

Judges 1:20 Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.

The third negative record came into the story of the tribes settling to the north of Judah and Simeon: Benjamites, Ephraim and Manasseh (the tribe of Joseph), Asher, Naphtali. Note the repeated compromises…

Benjamites tried to coexist with the Jebusites in contradiction of God’s command to drive them out. In Judges 1:21 But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

Bethel was taken, but the man who gave up the intelligence was allowed to live and move on. In Judges 1:22 Likewise the house of Joseph went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. … 24 The spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, “Please show us the entrance to the city and we will treat you kindly.” 25 So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go free. …

Key junctions that connect the land were left in the hands of those who were to be routed, and that became a huge source for future trouble. The sad record revealed in Judges 1:27 But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. 28 It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.

Four more times, we are left with the simple phrase: “the Canaanites lived among them” – a sad portent of the troubles to come.

• Judges 1:29 Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

• Judges 1:30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites lived among them and became subject to forced labor.

• Judges 1:31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, or of Achzib, or of Helbah, or of Aphik, or of Rehob. 32 So the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.

• Judges 1:33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, but lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; and the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath became forced labor for them.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the final note of chapter one concerned the Danites who found themselves subjected to the strength of the Amorites, rather than routing them from the land as instructed.

Judges 1:34 Then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley; 35 yet the Amorites persisted in living in Mount Heres, in Aijalon and in Shaalbim; but when the power of the house of Joseph grew strong, they became forced labor. 36 The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.

The first chapter, then, brought the following news:

• Without intentional developing of the next generation of leaders, the people found themselves in a quandary at the death of Joshua.

• When they sought God’s Word and followed it, they succeeded in moving forward to settle the land God told them was theirs.

• Some of the children began to exhibit an entitlement attitude, and they were appeased by their parents.

• The victories and strength seemed remarkable early on, but as the time passed, the nation started to face reversals and some were even routed.

• By the end of the chapter, a forced labor scenario was developed by Israel that God never instructed. God told them to make no agreement. They modified that idea to “make an agreement that works for you economically.”

What you didn’t see by the mid-point of chapter one was PRAYER or SEEKING GOD. That isn’t what the “Nightly News” called people to do. They worried, fought and fretted – but they didn’t seek God.

Now look at what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story”…Let’s tell the whole story again, this time from the spiritual standpoint…

The Two Instructions of God

It started with God’s Word, freely given, and heard by those who made their way into the land of Promise…

Judges 2:1 Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, 2 and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? 3 Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’” 4 When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord.

Note very closely what God told them THEY were to do.

First, they were not to try to harmonize with the people – there was to be no covenant with them. Obviously, they were to come in and take possession of the land in a way that was uncompromising.

Second, they were not to tolerate, not for a moment, the false gods of the people. They were to remove the altars and establish their God as the One and only God of that land. Every effort to tolerate another God brought disaster. Every time they accommodated another false place of worship, they lived in disobedience.

While we easily recognize this was a specific call for that group at that time, the Bible is FILLED with calls of God’s people to remain distinct from the world and the false gods of fortune, fame, power and pleasure that are everywhere worshiped by lost men and women. No one is arguing that we should use these verses to violently disrupt our plural society.

At the same time, we have entered a time when the pervasive lie has been embedded that plurality of belief makes our nation stronger.

Let me say it clearly: It does no such thing. I am not speaking of race, ethnicity or national origin – but rather of belief.

Let me be clear: There is a multitude of evidence that the west is buckling because we refuse to stand up and make truth claims that were once held as obvious. We have allowed and funded a rise of cultural enforcers of secular humanism and moral relativism so that they are now becoming the great thorn in our side – and may pull apart our very existence.

The pluralism has served their purpose – to suggest that many paths are equally right when it comes to religious understanding.

We have stood by as out government forced us to accept that life in the womb is not sacred, and when born, a baby cannot be proclaimed the same sex as their biological assignment represents.

Now, in the name of tolerance we are called bigots for believing the most basic Biblical notions about human life and relationships. I tell you this clearly – Those who have called for tolerance are gunning for our pulpits – and we are passing into a time of danger. Chad Vegas, Reformed Baptist pastor in Bakersfield, California and leader of the important school board in Bakersfield CA wrote about an important event this week:

As you know, CA has mandated this [school transgender policy] for the whole state. I have served on the largest high school board in CA, and the nation, for 12 years. I basically lead that board. Our board voted to adopt the new law into policy. I voted against it. I was breaking the law for doing so. I could be personally sued and our attorney tells me the board insurance won’t cover me because I am breaking the law and I am a bigot. … Thousands of parents filled our board room in protest of the law. Thousands are pleading with me to reconsider and keep fighting. My elders are still considering what to have me do…. [T]he board and administration, and even some leaders in the liberal teacher’s union, are asking me to reconsider.

Carl Trueman, a commenter added: “There you have it: A popular, longstanding, and effective member of a schoolboard has had to stand down—not because he does not enjoy the confidence of the community, but simply because he does not accept the latest demands that every knee must bow to whatever the political taste of the moment has decided is non-negotiable.”

“That’s not in the church!” You may say. “True!”

But at the same time, in Iowa this week, Christianity Today reported:

A pair of Iowa churches are challenging a new interpretation of their state’s civil rights act, which prohibits Christians from making gay or transgender people feel unwelcome and from restricting church bathroom use to a person’s biological gender. A 2007 amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, among other factors. Religious institutions are exempt, but only when they are doing something “related to a bona fide religious purpose.” The language is vague, and no churches have been disciplined for discrimination. But the newest explanation from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), a law enforcement agency commissioned to end discrimination in Iowa, wrote that “a childcare facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public” would be subject to the regulations.”

Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky who became nationally famous for her refusal to sanction a same sex marriage, is back in the news. This time she is being sued for not issuing a license to a man (Mark Sevier) who wants to marry his laptop computer. “Ridiculous!” you say. Stay tuned. When objective truth is denied, anything goes…

Go back to the weeping point at Bochim in Judges 2:5, and look at what happened from God’s perspective.

First, Joshua sent the people to settle the land as God told them to do:

Judges 2:6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land.

Second, the people followed Joshua and the leaders who knew God, and served God while they were on the scene, but that didn’t last.

Judges 2:7 The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died …

Third, concentrating on settling the land, they didn’t focus on the true interaction of their children with the Lord – and all their work was imperiled by them in short order.

Judges 2:10 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

Skip down to the end of the chapter, and see what happened next…God weighed in. He explained the troubles they faced from the view of Heaven. He said:

Judges 2:21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.

Can you see it?

The upheavals and struggles of our political, economic and social strife cannot be understood without recognizing the spiritual battles raging behind them.

Now, don’t leave low. Don’t leave worried. Think about what God said about the end. The troubles were specifically allowed by God with purpose. They were a test.

What exactly was the test?

• It was a test of trouble to see how the people of God would react when posed with the proposition they had to choose between being God-followers or worldly successful.

• It was a test of individuals to see who would stand out for God when the culture not only didn’t laud them, but called them names and hung criminal epithets on them.

This is a time like no other in American history. It is a time when people who believe truths accepted for generations are called delusional, while others simply create complicated scientific sounding theory with the flimsiest of data to enforce social changes they want. Free speech is curtailed in schools if it doesn’t fit the enforced view of the state. A court simply overturns votes of the citizenry because they know better than our founders and powerful politicians seem to walk above the law.

These are challenging times for the believers… but you must not be deceived.

The real test you face is not from other people. It is not political tension or racial division. Those are distractions. The test is designed by our Maker for each of us planned to live in OUR generation.

Will you follow Jesus when it costs you? If there would be no cost, why did the Master proclaim: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.? (Mt. 16:24)”

If our stand would allow all families to live peaceably in this time, what did Jesus mean when He said in Luke 12:51 “Do you suppose that I came to bring peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.””

He further describes the family division that would occur: “I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.””(Matthew 10:35-36).

He says that when people come to Him to be His disciples, the result could be division between their values and that of their family. Turmoil will come when one turns to Christ and others refuse to hear the Word of the Lord.

Are you ready to be tested?

To reckon the tests, look into the Word. 1 Peter 3:10-12 admonishes six important ones in the context of believers in troubled times. Peter wrote:

For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days,

Learn Restraint: Must keep his tongue from evil
Live Integrity: Must keep his lips from speaking deceit.
Walk with Direction: Must turn away from evil
Apply Effort: Must do good;
Demonstrate Desire: Must seek and even pursue peace

12 “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

One final encouragement… God gives His grace when troubles roll in. Look for it. Celebrate it. Share it. Speak of His goodness more than any hardship. God is good. Life is a gift. Every moment we can choose to complain or celebrate.