Judges: Lessons We Have Learned
Our weakness, God's strength.
Text: Judges 2:10-16
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
"Over the past 11 or 12 weeks, we have been doing a little “deep dive” into the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.
Last week we took a break from the series to celebrate that we were finally back to in-person worship, and I preached on Psalm 122, 'I was glad when they said unto me, "Let us go the house of the Lord."'
Well, today I’d like to take us back to Judges for just one last Sunday. We’re not going to finish the book, in fact we may come back to finish it in another series of sermons later this year. But for now I’d like to bring this current series to a close with some reflections on the big lessons we have learned from the Book of Judges.
And as our text for the day, I’d like to take us back to the 2nd chapter of Judges, and to a summary statement we find in verses 10-16 of what the period of Judges was like. So listen again to this text that we have read before from Judges 2:10-16.
'After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.' [Judges 2:10-16 NIV]
So my friends, the first big lesson from the Book of Judges that I want us to remember is simply this:
1. God’s people just keep on messing up.
Does it surprise you that this is a lesson I actually want you to remember and hang onto? But it’s true! It was true back in ancient Israel that God’s people kept on messing up, and it’s true now! It was and is and ever shall be true that God’s people just keep on messing up. This is what it means when the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
This is why when you actually read the Bible, you discover very quickly that there is not one person in here who doesn’t mess up, and most of them mess up royally!
And not just once, but again and again. This summary statement from Judges chapter 2 could be written about any period in the history of Israel. And it could be written about any period in the whole history of the Christian church.
God’s people just keep on messing up. It’s the way we’ve been wired ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. We humans are messy, messed up people!
Now you and I can either find that to be a depressing truth, or we can find it to be a liberating truth. I am hoping that you will receive it today as a liberating truth. It’s liberating because admitting that we are messy, messed up people means that we can stop pretending that we’re not.
So many of us spend so much time and energy pretending to other people that we not messed up, that we have our act together, that we are competent and capable and in control, that if something got messed up around here it is not our fault, that the world might be going to hell in a hand-basket but it’s not because of me.
And we want to prove to everyone that we are right about the things we think and believe, and not wrong, that we are wise and not foolish, that we are strong and not weak, that we are adequate and not inadequate. The only trouble is, that we are all anxiety ridden because somewhere down inside of us we are not all that confident that we really are adequate enough…or wise enough…or strong enough...or smart enough for the battles we are facing in life. And we are not so confident that we are right about all the things we think and believe. And we don’t always feel like we have our act together, lots of times we just feel messed up and messy.
We just don’t want anyone else to know that about us! So we try and cover it up, and keep up a good front. But we are always a little afraid of being found out, and exposed as a fraud.
I mean, what if people knew that I am not really as together as they think I am? What if they knew what I really think and how I really feel? What if the people at church knew some of the messed up things I have done in my life, or even some of what I’ve done just this past week?
Well, my friends, if we all would learn this lesson from the Book of Judges and take it to heart, we would all simply say, 'Welcome to the club!' We would say, 'God’s people just keep on messing up!'
And the reason that simply admitting this is so good for us, is that it puts us in exactly the right position for discovering the good news that: God comes to the aid of messy, messed up people.
And that’s the story of the Book of Judges, and of the whole Bible: God saves sinful people. It’s what God does. He is in the business of redeeming our messes.
And by 'redeeming them,' I mean: God not only saves us out of the messes we make, He will actually use the messes we make as part of the solution He creates for us. When Ehud was maimed in his right arm and could no longer wield a sword, God used his disability as part of the way God brought Israel salvation from their enemy. When Gideon was fearful and insecure, God used His fear and insecurity to help him lead his people who were equally fearful and insecure in the face of overwhelming odds.
All through the Book of Judges we have seen again and again that God is the perfect 'recycler.' In the economy of grace, nothing is ever wasted with God: Not even our worst sins or our most stupid mistakes or the biggest messes we get ourselves into. God will somehow use it all to bring forth His redemptive plan in us, and in the world.
2. Which brings us to the second major lesson from the Book of Judges I want us to remember and hang on to: when God comes to rescue his people, he does so by inviting messed up people like Ehud and Gideon and Deborah and Jephthah to join him in the work, -and he works in and through them as they are.
There is not one Judge whom God raises up to rescue the people of Israel who isn’t messed up him or herself. There is not one judge who isn’t broken in some significant way. There is not one judge who is adequate for the task in him or herself.
Ehud is maimed in his right arm and can’t wield a sword, Deborah is a woman and not equipped to lead men in battle, Gideon was fearful and insecure, and didn’t see himself as a mighty warrior at all. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, abandoned by his father’s family, and was the wrong man for the job in so many ways.
But you see, the lesson here is that it’s not about who we are, or how adequate or inadequate we are, or what abilities or disabilities we have or don’t have, or what resources are at our disposal or are not at our disposal.
The lesson God is teaching us by choosing to work in and through messed up people is that the important thing is who God is, not who we are. The big issue is what strength He has, and what resources are at His disposal.
3. Which brings me to the third lesson we need to learn and hang onto from the book of Judges, and that is that 'faith' is a matter of having new eyes so that we begin seeing everything through and with the eyes of God, even our worst sins, or painful sufferings, even our inabilities and insecurities and insufficiencies, even the messes we find ourselves facing each week in ourselves and all around us.
Faith is a matter of having new eyes to see it all through the eyes of God. That’s what changes everything for Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and Deborah and Barak and Gideon, and Jephthah.
They all faced battles they were ill-equipped to fight. They all faced enemies who were more powerful than they were. They all faced the fact that the mess they were in was a result of their own sins and the sins of their fellow Israelites.
But when God showed up in their lives, and filled them with His Spirit, they began to see with a new set of eyes. And they began to understand that God’s strength was what mattered, not their weaknesses. God’s adequacy is what mattered, not their inadequacy.
And so they began to walk in faith, trusting in who God is and what God could do, and not in who they are and what they could do. And they would each begin to obey, simply doing the next thing God asked them to do. And often the things God asked them to do seemed crazy. Often the things God asked them to do involved taking a risk. Often the things God asked them to do did not make sense to human logic.
Like when Gideon had finally assembled an army of 32,000 soldiers, and God told him to send most all of them back home. Gideon was left with 300 men to go up against 130,000 Midianites. It was a crazy battle plan God laid out for Gideon. But God was teaching Gideon and the Israelites and all of us, that He is not depending on our resources to win His battles. God is not asking us to fight for Him, He is showing us again and again that we need to trust in Him to fight for us.
He is the Savior, not us. Faith is having a new set of eyes to begin seeing this. A new set of eyes that begin to see everything in life with and through the eyes of God, and not simply through the eyes of human logic.
And that kind of faith is a gift all through the Book of Judges. It comes from God, and not from us. On our own, we just don’t see things through the eyes of God. We need God’s Spirit to indwell us so that we can begin to see in this way. But then we need to cultivate that new way of seeing. We need to practice using the gift of these new eyes, this new way of seeing.
I have been practicing this myself in the past few months, especially in terms of losses in my life. Losses through death like the losses of my Dad and then my Mom. But also here at church with the losses of Helen Redford, and Angelo Stathopolous, and Wendell Haskell, and Barbara Coyman, and Valerie Fournier, and Joanie Jones, and Ed Magner. So many people who were dear to me have died these past two or three years, and I am trying to practice seeing these losses through the eyes of God and not just through my own feelings of grief.
But there have also been a lot of losses in our church due to people moving away. Today we are saying a “good bye” to Bob and Nancy, two people I dearly love and have worked hand in hand with. It’s hard to let them go, even if I affirm that there are good reasons for why they are going.
And then the Eriksons have bought a house in New Hampshire and will be moving there this Fall, and the Everitt’s have bought a house on the Cape and move in next weekend.
And it hurt to have Christine Bartholomew move away, along with her mom and dad, Joe and Celia DiPerri. And Nate and Sharon Bodenstab and their boys, And Connor and Allegra Davis, and Adam and Corrine Bomberger, and Lil Fitzgerald.
There are just so many who have left or are leaving, and I feel like Gideon, like our church is just being depleted. And I didn’t know how much I depended on numbers as a sign of success until the numbers started going down. You see, I not only grieve these losses because these are people I care about and miss. I also grieve because too much of my identity is wrapped up in having this church be “successful.” And from my own human perspective, declining numbers and declining leaders and declining offerings doesn’t look like success.
But reading Gideon’s story has reminded me that success seen through God’s eyes looks very different. It’s never been about numbers, and from God’s perspective bigger does not mean better. God says, 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, and in quietness and trust is your strength.'
So I have been practicing using these eyes of faith these days. Practicing trusting that God’s ways are better than my ways. Trusting that God is going to use our losses as well as our gains for our good and His glory. That God is going to work all things together in a way that we will all ultimately give thanks for.
And in the meantime, I am seeking to be obedient to simply be who He has called me to be and do what he has called me to do each day. And that is what I urge upon all of us today. Remember, we are messy and messed up people, as God’s people have always been. But God continually chooses to work through messy and messed up people just as they are. And as He does, God gives us eyes of faith as a gift, to begin seeing everything from His perspective. And as we do, we begin to be liberated to walk in faith and hope and love and watch God do amazing things above and beyond all we could ask for.