THE COMPROMISE OF SUBTLE SIN SOWS SEEDS OF SPIRITUAL DECAY LEADING TO FUTURE CATASTROPHIC FAILURES
We embark this morning on a new adventure. Leaving the record of the victorious spread of the gospel recorded in the book of Acts, we turn our attention to the book of Judges and the struggles of the tribes of Israel as they seek to fully possess the promised land. Never have a people been promised so much by God and yet failed to appropriate the blessings because of their disobedience and lack of faith. We are going to witness a sad tale of people that just refuse to learn from their failures and continue to commit the same sins repeatedly over and over and over again. It is no surprise that the consequences of idolatry and rebellion and friendship with the world and spiritual apathy remain consistently painful and severe.
Overall structure of the book is easy to follow:
I. (1:1 – 3:6) Introduction to the Judges – Justification for the Lord’s Anger
II. (3:7 – 16:31) Main Section – Selected History of a Number of Key Judges and their role in bringing deliverance from specific different enemies – Journal of Repeated Cycles of Apostasy and Deliverance highlighting the Faithfulness of a Long Suffering God
Traces the repeated cycle of: (six or seven of these cycles involving 12 judges – Eli and Samuel would raise the number to 14)
Apathy / Apostasy / Affliction / Answered Prayer
Disobedience / Desperation / Deliverance
Rest / Rebellion / Retribution / Repentance /Rescue
Sin / Suffering – Servitude / Supplication / Salvation
You get the picture
III. (17:1 – 21:25) 2 Appendices – Jumbled Mess of Religious and Moral Depravity
Why are these special heroes called “Judges” – not what we think of when we use that term = someone sitting in a courtroom in majestic flowing robes making decisions about various cases. These men and women are special deliverers or saviors raised up by God to deliver His people from oppression from foreign conquerors because of their own apostasy and disobedience to God’s covenant. But they did not pass their leadership down to their children. They also did not rule in a centralized fashion but over regions or tribes. So some of their activities could overlap.
Dale Ralph Davis: This Introduction is an apology for omitting an introduction. Not that it couldn’t be done. We could wade through it all: . . . the moral problems in the stories, chronology, archaeology, date, authorship – all those exciting things readers are just dying to know. … [he quotes I. Howard Marshall’s introduction to his commentary on Luke:] I have a growing conviction that we would find far more fun and profit in Bible study if we gave more heed to the introductions the biblical writers themselves prefaced to their works . . . We do better to jump straight into the biblical text and get dirty with its ink.
Not to say that we won’t touch on all of these matters where appropriate, but we will concentrate on jumping right into the text itself.
Passage traces through a geographic progression … but we will also be looking at a common moral and theological thread:
SEVEN ?? SEEDS OF DECAY – SUBTLE SINS INVOLVING COMPROMISE
Interpretation Problem: Is what has been recorded positive or negative from a moral standpoint??
Military Campaigns look successful on the surface, but there is cause for concern as we think of the consequences down the road from these seeds of decay
Everything centers around the difficulty God’s people have fully obeying the commands of their invisible leader; we have been called to be different from the world around us; but we fall into the trap of using the tactics and methods of the world because we fail to rely solely on the Lord and His resources for victory
Illustration: Decay – rust around base of pole holding up basketball hoop; integrity of the system did not give way all at once; it was gradually decaying over time; sprayed black paint on the exterior, but still decaying inside – when the catastrophe hit it was sudden and dramatic
(:1-3) CONTEXT: CRISIS IN LEADERSHIP –
#1 SEED OF DECAY: CHOOSING MAN’S WISDOM OVER GOD’S WISDOM — REASONABLE HUMAN STRATEGY THAT FAILS TO TRUST THE DIVINE DIRECTIVE
“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?’ And the LORD said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’ 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.”
Contrast between book of Joshua and Judges:
– Victory and Conquest – Defeat and Despair
– Strong leadership – Total Anarchy
Key verse: 17:6; 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
– Joy, strength, sense of unity – Sorrow, weakness, lack of unity
– Apostasy and Idolatry – Loyalty and Faithfulness to the Lord
What brought about this great change?
Remember God’s key promises in the Abrahamic Covenant:
– A seed – remarkable given the elderly state of Abraham and Sarah – culminates in the Messiah – early history of Israel under the leadership of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph)
– A land – never forget the importance of the promised land – Moses brought the people out of bondage in Egypt in the Exodus and Joshua brought them into the land; important to fully possess the land graciously given to them – culminates in the Messianic kingdom
– A blessing to the world – culminates in the New Covenant
Despite the ups and downs of Israel in terms of their obedience and then unfaithfulness to the covenant, God remains faithful to His promises; He will never cast aside His covenant; that is what we believe God is not done yet with His program for the nation of Israel.
Contrast between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of His people
2:1-5 “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 shall become as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.'” 4 And it came about when the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 So they name that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the LORD.”
Should break our hearts as we think of our own lives and consider our own sinfulness set against the holiness and faithfulness of our Savior
Problem of the Second Generation:
They lose their fervent love for the Lord; they tend to function more on external obligation than on heart conviction
Josh. 24:31 “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.”
Daniel Block: Presumably the divine will on the matter was to be ascertained by the high priest’s manipulation of the Urim and Thummim, as prescribed for Joshua in Num. 27:21.
Why would this alliance between Judah and Simeon make natural sense:
– Full brothers – the offspring of Jacob and his first wife Leah
– The territory promised to Simeon co-existed with that larger segment promised to Judah
Gen. 49:8-12 – prophecy of Judah’s preeminence
I. (:4-7) UPLAND CAMPAIGN AGAINST BEZEK – (“went up”)
#2 SEED OF DECAY: COLLECTING PRIDEFUL TROPHIES AFTER THE PATTERN OF THE WORLD
“And Judah went up, and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands; and they defeated ten thousand men at Bezek. And they found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. And Adoni-bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.’ So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.”
Constable: Each of the major divisions of 1:1—2:5 opens with a form of the verb ‘alah (to go up; 1:4, 22; 2:1). This verb also appears in 1:1, 2, and 3.
A. Impressive Victory – does not mean that Judah was right to engage the tribe of Simeon in co-leadership position
Look at how the Lord consistently gives His people the victory and yet they have to fight to make it happen
What should they have done with Adoni-bezek when they caught up with him?
– Not followed the course of the world – crippling him from any effective military action or opposition; made him helpless and object of scorn and derision
– Commentary of pagan king saying that his punishment was justified along the lines of “what goes around comes around” does not mean that God was pleased with this outcome
– Not make him a personal trophy as a point of pride in their success
– Should not have died in Jerusalem but outside the camp
Shawn Drake: This was an act to humiliate the enemy and it was something that many other nations did. Since when did God want His people to take on the actions of other nations?
David Block: The author hereby declares obliquely that the newly arrived Israelites (including the tribe of Judah) have quickly adopted a Canaanite ethic. Apart from the issue of having spared a man who clearly came under the sentence of death [Deut. 7:1-2; 20:16-17] with the rest of the people, instead of looking to Yahweh for ethical guidance, the Israelites use the Canaanites as models when deciding how to treat captives.
II. (:8) CAMPAIGN AGAINST JERUSALEM –
#3 SEED OF DECAY: GOING BEYOND THE LORD’S INSTRUCTIONS — FAILING TO OCCUPY THE CAPTURED CITY ON A PERMANENT BASIS
“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.”
Is this a little like Moses getting ticked off and striking the rock twice in anger and ruining the symbolic picture the Lord wanted to present to His people?
You set a city on fire to make it uninhabitable and undesirable – they needed to take it under their control and domination and not allow any enemies to set up strongholds there in the future
Sanctify the city for the Lord’s purposes; don’t try to wipe it out and then allow for the devil to move back in with even stronger forces
[But what about other exceptions: Josh. 6:24 – but Jericho was cursed and not to be rebuilt; 8:8 – God commanded Joshua to treat city of Ai just like Jericho; 11:11-13 only burned Hazor]
Constable: Even though the soldiers of Judah and Simeon captured and burned Jerusalem, the Israelites were not able to keep the Jebusites from returning to control their ancient capital (cf. v. 21; 19:11-12; Josh. 15:63).
“The Jebusites were a mixed people who descended from early colonies of Hittites and Amorites in Canaan.”
Jerusalem became Israel’s permanent possession years later when David finally exterminated the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:6-9). The Israelites’ unfaithfulness in subduing the land is one of the major emphases of Judges
III. (:9-18) DOWNLAND CAMPAIGNS (“went down”)
“And afterward the sons of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites
o living in the hill country Judahite uplands south of Jerusalem
o and in the Negev southern part of Judah which is mainly desert
o and in the lowland.” Transitional region of Judah between the hill country and the coastal plain
A. (:10-15) Campaign against those in the Hill Country – two part campaign
1. (:10) Hebron
“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.”
2 Sam. 5:1-5 Hebron later became capital city for King David; highest city in elevation in Judah
Block: To the Israelites the name Anakim became proverbial for great and fearsome foes (Deut. 9:2).
2. (:11-15) Debir —
#4 SEED OF DECAY: CUTTING DEALS WITHOUT REGARD TO SPIRITUAL CONVICTIONS AND PRIORITIES
“Then from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir (now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher). And Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife.’ And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife. Then it came about when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. Then she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, ‘What do you want?’ And 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.”
Zondervan Pict. Ency. Of Bible: located in the hill country of the Shephelah to the west of Jerusalem
Shawn Drake: the Hebrew actually means “to nag”. She was “nagging” her husband to get this field for her
Land had characteristics similar to the desert Negev area – she wanted a more fertile land
B. (:16-17) Campaign against those in the Negev – two part campaign
#5 SEED OF DECAY: ASSIMILATING FOREIGNERS WITHOUT SUBJUGATING THEM TO THE COVENANT RELATIONSHIP
1. (:16) Campaign against Arad
“And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms with the sons of Judah, to the wilderness of Judah which is in the south of Arad; and they went and lived with the people.”
They did not wipe out the Canaanites living in the area … they just took up residence with the existing pagans.
2. (:17) Campaign against Zephath – named Hormah
“Then Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they struck the Canaanites living in Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah.”
Positive example by way of contrast to the compromise involved in campaign against Arad
C. (:18) Campaign against those in the Lowland – Against Three Key Cities and surrounding territories
“And Judah took Gaza with its territory”
“and Ashkelon with its territory”
“and Ekron with its territory.”
(:19-21) SUMMARY – MUCH SUCCESS (ATTRIBUTED TO THE FAVOR OF THE LORD) BUT SEEDS OF FAILURE (GIVING UP IN AREAS WHERE THEY FAILED TO TRUST THE POWER OF THE LORD)
A. (:19) Summary with respect to Tribe of Judah
#6 SEED OF DECAY: OVERESTIMATING THE STRENGTH OF THE ENEMY AND UNDERESTIMATING THE POWER OF GOD
“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.”
Daniel Block: In light of Deut 7:1-3 and after the miraculous conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6), no one, no matter how technologically superior to the Israelites, should have been able to withstand Judah’s attack. This verse must be read in light of Josh 17:16-18, according to which Joshua had encouraged Ephraim and Manasseh by specifically declaring that the Canaanites’ superior strength and their possession of iron chariots would be no hindrance to the Josephite tribes’ conquest of the river valleys and plains. In our test (v. 18a) the narrator explicitly attributes Judah’s successes in the hill country not to equivalent military power but to the presence of Yahweh. Then why could they not take the lowland? Why is Yahweh’s presence canceled by superior military technology?
B. (:20) Summary with respect to Caleb
“Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.”
C. (:21) Summary with respect to the Tribe of Benjamin — Transitional
#7 SEED OF DECAY: COEXISTING WITH THE ENEMY
“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.”
Constable: Jerusalem (v. 21) was on the border of Judah and Benjamin but mainly within Benjamin’s territory. The Hinnom Valley on the southern edge of the city was the boundary. Even though the soldiers of Judah and Simeon captured Jerusalem, the Benjamites could not hold it. This is evidently why the writer referred to the Benjamites at this point. This failure was another significant incident of inadequate trust and obedience (cf. v. 19). It also foreshadowed the Benjamites’ role in the final disastrous chapters of the book (chs. 19—21).
Shawn Drake: God had told them many times that when they took a city that they were not leave any of the people alive; but we see here several times where instead of killing everyone they just made them slaves. Now what would be wrong with that? They could get the best of both worlds. They didn’t have to kill anyone and they could get someone to do their manual labor and the types of things they didn’t want to do.
This passage is all about taking sin seriously; trusting God totally and being committed to Him so that we don’t compromise in any of those subtle areas.
We need to seize possession of the blessings that the Lord has promised us and experience the spiritual victory He has for us. He does not want us just to try to be holy. He wants us to be holy because He is holy.
Seeds of spiritual decay will sprout eventually and the fruit will be ugly. Our life will come crashing down just like my basketball hoop.