This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 3. The audio of this message is also available.
Are you familiar with the old saying “what goes around . . . comes around?” It seems like my mother used to quote that whenever she heard of someone getting caught doing something bad. She wanted my sister and me to know that if we lied, cheated, or stole-or maybe didn’t make our beds, our actions would come back on their heads someday in some way. “What goes around . . . comes around” means that we reap the consequences of our words and actions.
Today we will look at this truth in the introduction to the book of Judges. We see it in the cycle that recurs throughout the book. The people of Israel sowed disobedience and reaped apostasy. Apostasy went round and God’s discipline came back to haunt them. What is apostasy? It is abandoning allegiance to the true God in favor of allegiance to other gods.
So how did this begin? What led to apostasy? Israel disobeyed God’s commands. You read his word to them in Deut. 7:1-6. When they entered the land he had promised them, they were to force out the occupants and utterly destroy them and their places of idol worship.
Why? This seems so harsh! Why kill what we might think of as innocent women and children? Deut. 7:6 says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth.”
God’s people were holy to him, meaning set apart for him and his purposes; he prized them above all the other people of the earth because they belonged to him. If they lived among idolaters, they too would get caught up in idol worship. What we may feel was harsh on God’s part was designed to protect his people. Worship of anything other than God brings slavery; worship of the true God brings freedom. We’ll see this if we pay attention to the days of the judges.
You remember that after the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, all went well. God gave them victory after victory over the nations. Then, it was left to the individual tribes to go into their allotted areas and drive out the inhabitants. They didn’t begin with outright disobedience but with compromising attitudes that should have set off alarms.
Look at Judges 1, as I highlight these alarms.
All begins well in v. 1 as the people ask God which tribe should attack their area first. That is always a good place to begin—by asking God what to do. God’s answer was that the tribe of Judah should attack first.
But look at v. 3:
The men of Judah said to their relatives, the men of Simeon, “Invade our allotted land with us and help us attack the Canaanites. Then we will go with you into your allotted land.” So the men of Simeon went with them.
They asked God what to do and then applied logic to the situation and did something else. Judah was to attack but they decided they would recruit help from the tribe of Simeon.
Here is the first compromise, or you might want to write it down as an attitudinal alarm:
Instead of trusting God, they substituted their own wisdom for his. Whenever we base our decisions more on logic than on God’s word, we are in danger. What goes around will come around.
Back to the story of Judah’s attack; the Israelites had a great victory, but rather than killing the king, they decided to cut off his big toes and thumbs. This was how the people of the land dealt with their prisoners. They mutilated them so that they could no longer fight. But this wasn’t what God had ordered. Again, they substituted man’s wisdom for God’s.
Then in 1:19, another problem with Judah surfaces:
The Lord was with the men of Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels.
Remember this introduction comes from the perspective of the tribes. They couldn’t conquer because they chose not to; God had promised the victory. But they likely thought, “Why risk war when the people have iron chariots?” You might call this attitudinal alarm
They obeyed far enough and had become complacent. Why risk doing more? When we give into our fears or become complacent, we are in trouble and alarms should go off.
The account of the tribes’ invasion of their allotted lands here in the first chapter of Judges increasingly reveals them as more and more disobedient, having grown more and more complacent.
Let’s look at what the tribe of Joseph did according to Judges 1:22-26. (For your information, Joseph’s tribe is often referred to as two separate tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were his two sons.) Anyway, before they attacked Bethel, they got intelligence from one of the inhabitants and then let the traitor live. First, they accepted the “it’s logical” idea by thinking they needed an insider’s information when God was on their side; second, they had the attitude of “good enough.” They killed everyone else and it seemed good enough. Good enough indicates satisfaction with the status quo. What we’ve done is close enough to what God asked. Instead of believing
an alarm should sound!
The rest of the passage repeats the phrase, “they did not drive out the inhabitants” or they “did not conquer” or “did not take possession of”, depending on your translation. It all means the same thing; they disobeyed God’s commands. This alarm could be called
Instead of driving the people out, they forced them into labor or allowed them to live with them in the cities and towns. It seemed right to them. This was outright and clear disobedience.
The last verse of Judges, 21:25, which is often called the theme of the book, reads, “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right,” or the New American Standard says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And we see this theme surface here in the first chapter. They disobeyed because it seemed right to them.
As the first chapter progresses, the tribes are less and less successful at driving out the inhabitants. Finally, verse 34 says, “The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain.” The tribe of Dan not only didn’t drive out their enemies, they were pushed out themselves.
In time, God sent his angelic messenger to his people. (You read it in Judges 2:1-5.) God said that because they broke the covenant they had made with him, they would now reap the consequences. No longer would he drive out the inhabitants, who would ensnare his people in idolatry. What goes around . . . comes around. Now we know from the second introduction that God was able to use the presence of the inhabitants for good, but that was not his best for them.
Their disobedience led to the cycles repeated throughout Judges. The alarms were there, but they continued heading toward apostasy. They said “it’s logical” and substituted their own wisdom for God’s; they determined it was “good enough” and were satisfied with the status quo; they asked “why risk it” and let their fears override their faith; and they said “seems right to me” and disobeyed.
As a result, their failures resulted in a cycle of apostasy described in Judges 2:11-19 (NASB):
Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus, they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.
And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could not stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them so that they were severely distressed.
Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when a judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.
This cycle recurs in this book six times. Apostasy brought God’s discipline through foreign oppressors, resulting in cries of pain. God in his compassion then raised up deliverers to bring relief and rest to his people from their hardships.
But note, in 2:19:
“But it came about when a judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them.”
This is really a spiral, not just a cycle. Each time the cycle repeated, the people were worse than the time before. Down, down, down went their worship and obedience. But God continued loving them and raising up judges to deliver them.
What was a judge? Our passage indicates that a judge was someone whose authority came from God himself; He raised them up. We also learn that the judges’ purpose was deliverance, not to judge disputes among the people. The Hebrew word refers generally to one who governs and leads. In this era the judges delivered people of Israel from eternal enemies who oppressed them.
It is very important that we don’t get caught up in focusing on the bad in this book; there is a lot of darkness. Instead, focus on what the cycles reveal about God and his character. First, we learn that God is a jealous God; he doesn’t put up with other claims to the affections of his people. One scholar explains God’s jealousy this way: “the legitimate passion of God for one whom he loves. This love is fueled not by an exploitative need to dominate but ardor for the well-being of the object. In the Old Testament [jealousy] is aroused when a legitimate and wholesome relationship is threatened by interference from a third party.”
Both God’s Old Testament relationship with Israel and our New Testament relationship with the church are covenant relationships, just as marriage is. In fact, the Bible refers to God as the husband of Israel and the church as the bride of Christ. Just as any attachment to a third party destroys a marriage, it does the same to our relationship with God. Therefore, God jealously acts to protect his love relationship with his people. He will not accept apostasy without acting.
So the first thing that the cycle reveals about God is that he is a jealous husband who moves to protect his marriage.
We also learn that he is a loving father. As Hebrews 12 tells us, he disciplines us for our good, so that we return to him and align our lives with what he knows is best for us. His discipline us for our best, not to hurt or destroy us.
The cycles also reveal God as a compassionate and merciful deliverer. The same mercy and grace that caused him to respond to the cries of pain of his people in Judges is the same compassion that caused him to send Jesus to die for us. In this case what goes around doesn’t come around. God gave deliverance when the people didn’t deserve it. He acted in mercy and grace toward his wayward and disobedient people, just as he does us.
We need to learn from these stories not to worship other gods and force God to discipline us. Sometimes I think we are so focused on the love of God that we fail to teach his discipline. Maybe we are afraid that others will look at our problems and determine that God is disciplining us. But we can’t make that judgment about others; we can only ask that of ourselves. Let’s just remember that love is not a fuzzy feeling but an action that works for the best of the beloved. It’s best not to see what comes around when we turn to other gods.
As I look back on the time in my college and early adult years when I strayed from God, I now hear the alarms that I missed. Although I became a Christ-follower at the age of seven, I began to compromise by thinking my spiritual life with God was good enough. It was certainly better than most of my friends! I was happy with the status quo. I did what was logical to be popular and accepted. Why risk losing friends by standing for God? However, in time those attitudes led me to worship the god of my own desires. The more I got away from God’s thinking, the more I put myself first. I was out for me! I gotta have friends, fun, and my own life. Yet, God acted in love, grace, and mercy, just as he did with the people of Israel. In my case, the enemy who attacked me was my own unhappiness. I hated myself and my life. Instead of the happiness I expected, it was a hollow, lifeless idol, and I never want to go back to it. But truthfully, I still find myself thinking wrongly; I wish I could say that was over and done with, but I sometimes try to apply logic to God’s will or think “good enough” about my spiritual life. After all, I am doing so much more than other people I know. Seems right to me!
What about you? Are there any alarms going off in regard to your attitudes? Are there places or situations where you think “it’s logical” and substitute man’s thinking for God’s? Do you spend more time listening to the world’s wisdom or God’s? Or maybe you think “good enough?” Do you think, “I’m doing pretty well; after all, I am in a Bible study, and I even do my lesson some days! Most of my friends aren’t doing that.” Maybe you think “why risk it” when faced with a tough situation that requires you to stand up for God. Do you compromise with the world around you because you fear others more than God? Or do you ever make decisions that seem right to you rather than compare them to God’s word?
Such attitudes render us numb to the fact that we are displeasing God and moving toward apostasy. What is the attitude behind apostasy? “Gotta have it!” When we reach the point where we feel that way about anything or any person other than God, we are worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. The Israelites bowed before the storm god Baal believing he was able to give rain for their crops and make them prosperous. Our culture worships prosperity. Is it possible that you are bowing to that god? Are you more concerned with stuff, home, car, clothes, or vacations than loving and serving God? Is your giving limited by your own selfishness and greed? Maybe it’s not prosperity but people whom you worship—gotta have them! What person is necessary to your happiness or your contentment? A husband? A child? What about a grandchild? Maybe your idol is your own success and pride. You feel you gotta achieve a certain level of success in your profession to be happy and content. What is truly in your heart? Is it God or does he take second place to your idols?
Let’s bow our heads and talk to God. Father, forgive us when we compromise and think our logic is better than your wisdom or think that our spiritual lives are good enough. Open our ears to hear the alarms going off when we think wrongly. Help us recognize the idols in our lives and repent of them. Give us the grace to let go of the things that we feel we gotta have. We know we can’t give them up without your power. Give us a love for you that overrides all other loves in our lives.