Judges 3.7-3.11 Faithful Action

April 15, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 3:7–3:11

Intro: The Cycle
When we were in Judges last, we discussed the “sin cycle” described in Judges 2.11-20. The record of God’s people in Judges is a cyclical tale about worship and rebellion. And throughout the story, God is consistently faithful to his promises while man is consistently unfaithful to his obligations. There are twelve different Judges, one from each tribe, 6 major and 6 minor. And throughout time of the judges, the following pattern in full, or part, appears:

1. The Israelites sin by worshipping false Gods.2. The Lord gets angry as this violates the covenant. 3. The Lord hands them over to their enemies.4. The Israelites cry out to God for deliverance from their oppression.5. The Lord raises up a military deliverer (judge) to rescue them.6. The Israelites experience a period of peace under the judge.7. The Israelites forget God’s salvation and begins another cycle.

Overall, the book of Judges reads like an epic miniseries, each episode more disturbing than the last—with a final episode as disappointing as LOST. And today’s text is the first episode, with the first and best judge named Othniel, who sets a standard by which the others are to be compared. Ironically, though Othniel is a solid family man, fights the most powerful enemy of all, and dies having led well for a generation to the glory of God; it’s more likely that you’ve heard of a muscle bound womanizer named Samson, who kills Philistines with a jawbone, and dies by killing himself to the glory of God. God’s best are not always the biggest and baddest—Othniel is plain, boring, but faithful.

The First Rebellion against God
Israel starts this first cycle by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord, namely, they don’t do what God told them to do and they do what God told them not to do. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. The path to oppression began with their refusal to obey God’s command to dispose their enemies from land. Instead, they decide they can tolerate their enemy which eventually leads to them marrying their enemies. And, what began as few Canaanites living among a lot of Israelites, became a few Israelites living among a lot of Canaanites.

As a result of immersing themselves in the world, God’s people forgot THEIR GOD. This is not amnesia. This isn’t some kind of absent-minded child who forgets he has a Dad; this is a defiant child who rebels against a loving Father who had done everything to provide, protect, and teach his children. I don’t know if we truly comprehend the love God the Father has for His children. (PICTURE OF HUDSON) God’s people abandoned their loving Father for a deadbeat dad. But God does not punish impulsively. Like a Father, he watches his children disobey over time, He patiently endures their unfaithfulness, showing them mercy and kindness for years, calling them to repent. It is shocking to consider how men respond to the patience of a Holy God—how we take His immeasurable kindness for granted. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the kindness of God (the fact that he doesn’t give men what they deserve right now) is intended to lead us to repentance (2.4). Unfortunately, the kindness of God often leads sinful men into even deeper rebellion.

The First Punishment of God
But God is also too kind to allow his children to pursue sin without doing anything to help them stop. It is loving for him to punish his children—another kindness intended to lead them to repentance. When we understand the weakness of our flesh, we need God to be merciful, but we also need God to be angry with us—to save us from ourselves sometimes. So, like any loving Father—he gets angry with the nation of Israel. And like a loving Father committed to his children, he punishes them. But how do you spank an entire nation? You do it with another nation. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

God sells his people into slavery under the King of Mesopotamia. He uses a man named Cushan-Rishathaim to punish his own people. His name means “The Cushite of Double Wickedness/Evil”. Some commentators argue that this is the writer’s way of poking fun at a guy who is really bad. More likely, it it is the writer’s way of emphasizing how powerful and severe his oppression was. Whoever this man was, he did not come from within the land, he was not some clan leader. He was a powerful foreign emperor from the Northeast. He came from a land that would one day birth the two evil empires that would conquer Israel and take them into captivity—Assyria and Babylon. He governs all of Israel for 8 years.

It is also “double wicked” in that we see God uses wickedness to punish wickedness—we see evil is one of his tools. How can God use evil? How can he not? The most evil that ever happened was the death of Jesus. Do we really think that Jesus was crucified by accident, fate, or dumb luck? Acts 2.22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with might works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. There are only two things in existence, one good holy Creator and bad broken creation. In other words, God only has wickedness to work with! And because this is God’s story, written by God, about God, for God, he will use whatever he can to display his greatness. We should be awed and amazed by the power of our God.

The First Judge from God - Othniel
He spanks a nation with a nation and, like every good spanking, it hurts and Israel cries. They do not cry out because they come to their senses and realize they are wrong or that they brought this upon themselves, they cry out because they are in pain. But it takes EIGHT YEARS for them to get to that point. I am not surprised that it takes an 8-year long spanking for Israel to cry; what surprises me is that God responds with such grace: But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:7-11 ESV)

God uses, not just people, but persons. Up until Othniel, all the battles are tribal. From the beginning, entire tribes are called up by God, entire tribes go to battle against God’s enemies, and entire tribes commit idolatry. Judges now moves us to a place where we see how faithful individuals impact nations. God works through governments, organizations, and groups, but movement in redemptive history takes place on the miniature scale—when one man, one woman, one person rises up and is faithful. Individuals matter to God. We wrongly believe that we have little significance to God, that what we do not really matter, and that is simply not true. God knows your name. God knows you. God intends to use you, who you are, what he has made you to be, what you have experienced, what you have done, for His glory. It matters to Him, it matters to us, to your children, and to their children.

And the one man that God uses here is a stud. In many ways, for our inspiration and discouragement, Othniel gives us that picture of what a godly leader. As younger brother to Caleb, Othniel was from “warrior stock”. He was one of the last “conquest era-heroes.” More than that, he we see in the first chapter he is a husband who fights for his bride and he’s a man committed to building a home with a strong woman to help him. Compared to the last judge, a womanizing wandering muscle head sinner who kills himself, Othniel show us what a godly leader should look like, act like, and lead like in order to impact a GENERATION of people (40 years). And his victory is not recounted in colorful heroic tales but simple plain black and white faithfulness.

The First in God’s Spirit
But the sermon is not titled, “Be like Othniel. Though he is a worthy man to imitate, he is at best a tool of the Lord. Nothing can succeed without God. Everyone is a tool for God’s glory. Some are better looking tools, some are uglier, some are big, some are small, but without God they are just tools lying on the workbench good for nothing. Othniel is not qualified to lead because he is a keen warrior, godly husband, or loving Father. Othniel is qualified because God calls him and God empowers him by His Spirit to fulfill God’s purpose. In fact, the very name of Othniel means, “God’s Strength.”

Throughout Judges, and the Old Testament, we see that God’s Spirit coming upon a colorful lot individuals, strengthening them to do something they could never accomplish alone. In the case of Othniel, takes a family man from the city of Debir to be the ruler of all of Israel AND to conquer a powerful emperor. The Spirit moves him to respond to God with action, to step into a fight with impossible odds, and to do so without fear. And the Spirit does not come upon Othniel because of anything in Othniel or when Othniel “invites” help—the Spirit of God comes upon whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, for whatever He chooses. God calls men and women, God equips them to fulfill their call, and God gives them victory, meaning, it always accomplishes his glory whether we win or not. Without God’s Spirit, men tend toward what is right in their own eyes, depend on themselves, and experience defeat after defeat after defeat.

The First (and only) Faithful
So how do I get me some Spirit of God to help me fight? I have my battles and impossible odds. I have enemies oppressing me and troubles that make me cry! Well, it is NOT by being “faithful” or “spiritual: enough to persuade God to help. It begins by acknowledging your helplessness to help yourself. The Bible is not a story about faithful men and women living faithfully so they can save themselves. The story is about BILLIONS of FAITHLESS MEN and one ONE FAITHFUL MAN—Jesus Christ.

Everything points us to Jesus Christ. Joshua was first “judge” before Judges, the first deliverer whose name means, “God Saves”. And following him we see God save his people through sinful deliverer after sinful deliverer by the power of the Spirit. All the while Israel is waiting for a true DELIVERER-- an anointed, spirit-filled , covenant keeping leader who can save once and for all. Enter Jesus—whose Hebrew name is Yeshua the Christ, which means “the anointed savior of God”. Like Othniel, he comes from the tribe of Judah. Like Othniel, Jesus arrives after a relative who goes before Him. Like Othniel, he is a family man from an obscure town. And like Othniel, Jesus ministry begins with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And like Othniel, Jesus was empowered to JUDGE God’s true “double evil” enemy of Satan and Sin. And like Othniel, Jesus gives us a rest, but one that never ends.

But unlike Othniel, Jesus Christ “judges” in a way totally backwards from what anyone expected . In fact, God employs the “double” wickedness of the Jewish leaders and the Pagan Gentiles to bring his just wrath down on His sinless Son. Acts 4.27-28 …For truly in this city were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. God choose to punish his sinless Son, who by the POWER of the SPIRIT choose to willingly, silently, and courageously lays down his life to deliver God’s people from oppression forever. He dies NOT ONLY so he can deliver us from sin, but so that he can SEND us the same Holy Spirit to dwell in and help us forever. On the night he was arrested, as he ate with his best friends, Jesus told them that he would die and they would be hated. Calming their growing fears He said, “…because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. . . (John 16.6-8)”

The First to Step
The cycle of our enslavement to sin stopped with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is not only seals our adoption as a sons, but he equips us to be warriors to do His will. In other words, through the power of the Spirit within us, we are to lead, fight, and enjoy. Because what the Bible says about the Spirit is disregarded or abused—the person of the Holy Spirit is ignored as vital to a living faith. This is partially out the pride of self-reliance, ignorance of the Scriptures, or fear of being labeled “too charismatic” But the result is more and more Christians who claim to love Jesus but secretly they live unhappy, overwhelmed, and defeated lives.

You are in a war. There is an enemy who wants to discourage and destroy you, your family, and your relationship with God. It is a spiritual war between two kingdoms where the battles are waged in relationships, marriages, work, parenting, sexuality, even finances. You are called to respond. There is a role for YOU to play in this battle, and it is not to remain seated. It may be big, or it may be small in your estimation, but it is YOURS. If Jesus is the standard, we know that the worth of our call is not measured by the world’s evaluation of success.You are helpless to help yourself. It doesn’t matter how healthy your marriage is, how strong your family is, how gifted you are, educated or experienced you might be—you will not succeed in ___________ without the Holy Spirit. You will walk down the wrong paths, fight the wrong fights, and expect the wrong fruit from your labor, you will be defeated.You are helped. The Father desires for us to cry out for help—to pray. Some hearing sermons like this they sit and wonder, “If I have the Holy Spirit…where is He? The Holy Spirit is there. He has been given as a gift to help you. Holy Spirit is given to help you. To help you speak. To help you learn. To help you decide. To help you endure. To help you understand. To help you rejoice. Talk to him.You are more than a conqueror. As John Piper wrote, “It is a great incentive, not discouragement, that all our effort to do what is right is the work of almighty God within us. At least for myself, I am greatly encouraged when the going gets rough that any effort I make to do right is a sign of God's grace at work in me.”

In conclusion, I want to live like the disciples. The Book of Acts is the history of what happens when 12 helpless men depend on the Spirit for help. Time after time we the Holy Spirit filling, sending, preventing, directing, protecting, comforting, encouraging, strengthening, bolstering, and helping these men obey God and do the Lord’s work. Sometimes that meant they suffered, sometimes that meant they died, but they were always certain where they were to go, always confident about what they were to do, always joyful in doing it, and always openly dependent upon the Spirit of God to help them. But they did not invite the Spirit into their lives to accomplish whatever they willed to do; they committed their lives to accomplish whatever He willed them to do. In other words, we don’t cry out for the Spirit of God to satisfy our own passions; but cry out to be satisfied by the presence of God himself.

Benediction: Philippians 2.12-13

And don’t freak out thinking this is just too charismatic and too freaky spiritual for you—remember that it wasn’t for Jesus, or Peter, James, or John, or Paul…or any true follower of Christ.

The Christian life in all its aspects—intellectual and ethical, devotional and relational, upsurging in worship and outgoing in witness—is supernatural; only the Spirit can initiate and sustain it. So apart from him, not only will there be no lively believers and no lively congregations, there were will be no believers and no congregations.” – J I PACKER

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

July 1, 2012

Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 17, 2012

Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds