Did 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.