HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, September 12, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Living by Your Own Code”
Text – Book of Judges
Today, I’d like to begin by asking a couple of questions that I want each of us to consider this morning. How close are you to God? How well do you know Him? How much do you trust Him? How deeply do you love Him? We’re going to revisit those questions later on; these are not questions to be answered too quickly like a teenager being asked about the state of their room, “yah, yah, it’s good enough.” There’s much more at stake than growing piles of laundry and the accumulation of dishes that haven’t made it back to the kitchen.
It is my conviction that a growing relationship with God is necessary to remain in obedience to Him and to safeguard ourselves from all manner of sin. Think of your spiritual life as a wagon on a hill with no wheel blocks. There is no remaining at a standstill…we either keep growing upward in our spiritual maturity propelled forward by our obedience or we begin to roll backward into sinful habits through disobedience. And as we all know, the ride down is far more effortless than the work required to make our way up the hill.
None of us will ever get to the place where we do not need to actively resist temptation…until we reach heaven that is; but, as long as we live on this planet, we need to grow continually in our reliance on God for our spiritual well-being, in the same way that we rely on air for our physical well-being.
The book of Judges chronicles the ups and downs of the people of Israel, but with fewer ups than downs…and how they end up becoming every bit as ‘Canaanite’ as the people who God had expelled from the land. The people chosen by God to reveal Himself through to the world ended up rejecting Him for idols, adopting all manner of sexual depravity and even the sacrificing of children in the act of worship, just as the people before them had.
Joshua lived to be 110 years old; during his lifetime, the Israelites were able to subdue the land of Canaan, but they were not able to completely clear the land of the previous inhabitants. Joshua divided up the land, encouraging the people to continue the work God had given them; however, it is clear that Joshua is uneasy about the future of the Israelites in this new land.
In a final speech to the people where he encourages them to closely follow all of the instructions Moses had written down and to remain entirely faithful to God, he warns them of the dangers of not doing so. “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you” (Joshua 24:19-20). I wonder if Joshua was trying to use a little bit of reverse psychology, because when the people hear this, they are adamant, “We will serve the Lord!”
What transpires in the book of Judges, however, tells a very different story.
“ADDICTION TO SIN”
Judges 2:6-13 – “6 After Joshua sent the people away, each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them. 7 And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. 9 They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
10 After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. 11 The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. 12 They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. 13 They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth.”
Sin had an addictive effect on the people of Israel…a habit they had never fully kicked since the days of Egypt. They were perpetually drawn into the act of worshiping other gods. Over a period of 300-500 years (depending on the dating process used by various biblical scholars), we see an obvious pattern emerging. Each time they make a new commitment to God, it isn’t long until they reject Him and end up in a worse condition than before. Their downward trajectory is halted at points, but each time they ‘forget,’ they simply pick up where they left off on their downward slide.
It appears that, as the years passed, each new generation was faced with the choice to serve God or idols… and always ended up choosing the latter and sinking to a deeper level of disobedience than the generation before them. Each cycle of disobedience left them farther removed from God and the ability to understand His requirements…even to the point that, when they did return to God, they treated Him as one of their many idols and not as the One true and living GOD.
It reminds us that every generation must make its own commitment to obeying God, a truth I think we’ve lost somewhat in today’s Church, but is abundantly clear from the book of Judges. Children born to Christian parents are not automatically going to grow into faithful believers if we, as parents, don’t show them how and why. If we make God less of a priority in our lives than He should be, is it any wonder when our children do as well? We may fool those who only see us on occasion, but those who know us best, our families, are not so easily fooled. They know what we are like when we let our guard down…and it is that example they will follow, not the polished public personas we present to others. But remember, this does preclude a child’s choosing to reject God of their own accord, either, no matter the example they grew up with. Each individual is responsible to make their own choices.
There is simply no escaping the fact that disobedience to God, which the Bible calls sin, is addictive. It often hijacks seemingly innocent desires and activities and puts a deadly twist on them. One example is the desire for validation. God created humanity in His very own image and made a way for us to enjoy a relationship with Him; but we, like the Israelites, reject His love and replace it with inferior forms of validation—we worship idols built on false religions, human relationships, money and possessions, academic and professional accomplishments and/or attempting to remain eternally youthful. Throughout the history of humankind, we have constantly struggled with the temptation to reject God as our only source of worth, protection and guidance for life.
Clear examples, from both historical times and our current day, of the addictive nature of sin can easily be attested to when we consider the sex ‘industry,’ the existence of both rampant gluttony and starvation simultaneously, the constant shifting of national and global powers, the easy dismissal of human life not our own, scams that give evidence to the fact that for many money trumps honesty. And unfortunately, there are too many more examples we could use.
An addiction to sin is extremely dangerous because it will take control over us, something that God refuses to do. God may intervene, but He will never force compliance; however, choosing any form of sin over God carries consequences. The Israelites in the book of Judges experienced God’s intervention on their behalf when they called out to Him, but they seem incapable of learning from past experiences and kicking their addiction once and for all.
Last week in our study, we learned that Leviticus 18 details all the reasons why the land is going to ‘vomit’ the Canaanites from it and God warned the Israelites that they would suffer the same consequence if they engaged in the detestable practices of idol worship, sexual depravity and child sacrifice. Despite the warning, given enough time, the people forget that their behaviour will indeed hold some dire consequences. The book of Judges details God’s attempts to bring the people back to a place of healthy obedience: when they reject Him, God removes His protection and allows the people to suffer loss.
Judges 2:14-15 – “14 This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. 15 Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress.”
Every few years, after the previous generation had learnt its lesson and returned to God, the next generation would turn from God and He would provide them with an incentive to acknowledge their need of Him. This cycle is repeated no less than a dozen times, on an average of every 25 to 40 years!
It struck me as I was preparing for today, that I would really hate God’s job. Knowing what’s best, providing all that’s needed, then having to sit back and watch as humanity trashes everything—creating an absolute mess of themselves at the same time. He refrains from forcing us to do what is right, even though it is in our best interest, because He values and honours the freewill that He has gifted humanity with. He will intervene at times in an attempt to persuade us to a better path, but ultimately, He allows us to make the final decision of whether we will choose to obey or do our own thing. I would be lousy at being God…I don’t have His patience…His compassion…or His self-control!
When we recognize our need of God—whether for the first time or after a period of having walked away from Him—it is not simply good enough to break with the past by stopping certain behaviours. Addictions, especially to sin, are incredibly difficult to change. Stopping one thing. without replacing it, creates a vacuum that sin will always find a way to fill. We must replace it with something new. The only cure for an addiction to sin is a loving, trusting, obedient relationship with God.
But, the problem is that there are just too many people trying to get by on the minimal requirements. Less than complete loyalty to God leaves room for disloyalty; less than full faithful obedience makes room for disobedience. The effect of sin in our lives may appear negligible and even go unnoticed by others, but it creates a wedge between us and God that if left unchecked is capable of destroying our relationship with Him entirely.
“THE DEADENING EFFECTS OF SIN”
Judges 11:29-39 – “29 At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, 31 I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. 33 He crushed the Ammonites, devastating about twenty towns from Aroer to an area near Minnith and as far away as Abel-keramim. In this way Israel defeated the Ammonites.
34 When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”
36 And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”
38 “You may go,” Jephthah said. And he sent her away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. 39 When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin.
It is obvious that God used Jephthah to lead a victory over the Ammonites, but He did not require Jephthah’s promissory bribe to do so. If God gave him a victory, Jephthah promised to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his door…had he presumed that he would be met by one of his slaves…a family pet…his wife? Scriptures don’t tell us, only that it was his only daughter and he immediately regretted his promise. And worse yet, he went through with it! She was given two months to go into the hills with her friends and then she was sacrificed.
Do you think God was interested in having a human sacrifice? No! He had expressly forbade it. So how did Jephthah get to the place in his life where he thought this would actually please God and win him favour? Yes, God used Jephthah, just as He can use any messed up person, but that doesn’t mean that God endorses their behaviour.
By Jephthah’s days as judge, according to Jephthah’s response to the Ammonite king, the Israelites had been in the land for about 300 years (Judges 11:26). When it came to the Israelites’ relationship with God, their cycle of rejecting God for idols had done more harm than they realized. Willful disobedience causes sin to grow. Sin hardens us and sends us down the path toward even greater sins and moral depravity…sins we would not have considered at an earlier time in our lives become normative. Eventually, we tune out the still small voice that directs us and convicts us. We can even begin calling evil ‘good’ (Isaiah 5:20).
The book ends with a very telling phrase, “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25)…and isn’t that what usually gets us into trouble?
How do we avoid the pitfalls?
· Don’t water down God’s commands, but work diligently to make His values your own. What are God’s commands? [love God, love others, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God] What do these actions look like in real life? Do that! Who cares what other people think…live to please God first and foremost.
· Take a stand against sin…in yourself! We’re too quick to spread judgments thickly around us, all the while letting ourselves off the proverbial hook. What was the biggest problem for the Israelites during the time of the judges? “All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” We are often not the best judge of our own behaviour and motives; when we allow habitual sin room, our consciences become seared and we are no longer able to make judgements that align with God’s values.
· Be patient! Often we get ourselves in trouble, because despite saying we trust God’s faithfulness to us, we really don’t. Before we jump into ‘fix it’ mode, we need to make certain that our plans are actually in line with His.
· We descend into self-destruction when we turn our back on God. It reminds us of the fact that we need Jesus…without Him we can become like the Canaanites too! We may have different altars to worship at, but sexual depravity and the sacrifice of children’s well-being for the things we worship and other addictions to sin are still rampant
So remember my original questions? This week please take the time to consider each one: How close are you to God? How well do you know Him? How much do you trust Him? How deeply do you love Him? There is always room to grow in our knowledge of God, in our relationship to Him and in our obedience to His commands. Taking a break from God should never be an option. Our spiritual health and eternal destiny depend on our continued diligence.
For Further Study
The Bible Project – Overview: Judges - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOYy8iCfIJ4
Pastor Landon – Judges in Seven Minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_P8cMpAd8Y
Sunday, September 19, 2021- “The Messiah was a Descendant of the Moabites? No Way!” (Ruth) - In-person and Online
Weekly lessons are now being made available on Youtube – “Pastor’s Study” - Go to our website: hopechapelcollingwood.ca and click on the Youtube icon or click on the link below https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrF8GWFnLjTmRyXjYnq1Ytw
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!