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.