Last week I wrote that the book of Judges has particular application to current popular culture, and that Christians today should familiarize themselves with it. Its likely that believers in every generation feel like theirs is the most wicked culture ever—but denying the serious speed at which ours is sliding toward Sodom would take note-worthy naiveté. In fact, it is a fair question: has any generation slid this far, this fast?
The answer, of course, is Yes, and the Bible has much to say about it. Now allow me to say this: I am not a fan of the Americanized reading and patriotic application of Scripture which is all too common. You should not read Revelation as if it described the phases of European history leading to the American Revolution. You should not read Joseph’s stock-piling of food as a sign for Americans to prepare for seven years of famine. And please, please, pretty please, don’t see Bartonesque Americana in Isaiah’s description of an eagle. Gag.
So the moral decline described in the book of Judges was not written as some sort of veiled prophetic description of the US. Yet at the same time, the delight in depravity displayed in those days certainly finds its parallel in our own world. And the Holy Spirit wants us to do more than just gawk at it: Judges is written for us to learn from it. Here are three lessons that I find particularly sobering (two for today, and one for tomorrow):
1. Compromise Corrupts, and a little compromise corrupts absolutely
Judges has often been described as a cycle; Israel sins, God judges by bringing in their enemies, Israel is oppressed, they cry out for help, God delivers through a judge, aforementioned judge dies, Israel sins, wash, rinse, repeat.
But calling it a “cycle” largely misses the depth of what is happening. It is more like a tail-spin; rather, more like a tail spin that picks up speed, and every revolution is more violent and desperate than the one before. There is a pattern to the book, but it is a pattern in the sense that labor pains are in a pattern—each one gets worse than the one before.
First Israel sins a little. Then they get judged a little, then they get a little judge. Then they sin a lot, then they get judged a lot, then they get a weaker judge. In fact, as Israel’s sin gets worse, their judges get worse. Their first judge was awesome—related to Caleb, he handed out springs left and right, and ruled the center of the country with his fist (and enemy king’s thumbs).
The next judge was reduced to sneaking into an enemy’s house, gutting him, and sneaking away in the middle of the night—this took place in Jericho, but it was a long way away from the days when Israel marched around the city and the walls fell down. The next judge used an ox goad. Then after that, there were no more men who would be judges, and a woman stepped up.
Then it gets worse. Not only are there no men to lead and no women to lead, but Gideon gets drafted and then demonstrates less courage than any military leader ever. From there God uses Jepthah, whom (if you remember) Israel rejected. They didn’t want him. They fired their judge!
Finally we see Samson. Not only did Israel not want him, they arrested him and handed him over to the Philistines (who didn’t want him either). Israel went from having a strong leader, to having no leader, to firing their leader, to handing their leader over to his death. They went from driving their enemies out of Palestine to handing their leaders and their taxes over to the rulers of Palestine.
Why? How did things get so bad?
Because they compromised. They didn’t follow God’s commands, and they didn’t repent when they were confronted. The refused to give up their sins, and instead they embraced the world around them. What started as a little compromise, when left in the oven for a few years at the right temperature, produced big sin.
The lesson to take away: compromise corrupts, and even a little compromise corrupts absolutely.
2. Danger is internal, Judgment is external
Judges presents the constant pattern of Israelite sin, followed by Divine judgment. And that judgment always takes the same form: oppression from enemies. While it is obvious that the presence of those enemies did help Israel sin—after all, they didn’t import the Baal idols from Egypt—the presence of those enemies was the fruit of sin, not the result of sin. In other words, the Midianite conquest of Israel was not what brought about the end of Israelite religion. The sin inside the camp caused that, and the result of that internal sin was the defeat at the hands of their enemies.
Obviously, the church does not live in a theocracy, and so our spiritual health is not as easy to divine as if we were under the Mosaic Covenant. In other words, today rain does not equal God’s pleasure, nor drought his disapproval. Nevertheless, the church does still have enemies. We fight against principalities, false religions, doctrines of demons, the world, the flesh and the devil. It is helpful to remember that spiritual ruin always comes from the inside—which results in the collapse of the outside.
Plainly and practically: the church is not defeated (or threatened) if a court case about marriage goes this way or that way. The church does not lose if there are, say…gay marriages at the Grammy’s, or if abortion is funded by tax dollars. Those things are sinful, obviously, and are signs of God’s judgment on our country. But the danger for the church is always compromise being allowed on the inside. We are not responsible for what happens in the world, but we are responsible for what happens in our heart and in our flocks. That is where defeat and danger are seen. We should lament the culture’s run into sin, but also understand that the real battlefield is not the culture war, but the war for the purity of our hearts, our homes, and our churches–culminating in evangelism. In fact, a lack of evangelism is a sure-tell sign that Midianites are ruling the land, while the leaders are hiding in the wine press.
Pray that your life would be free from compromise, and that your church would be on the offensive–taking the gospel into the world. Recognize that the threat to spiritual health is in your heart, and instead of allowing compromise in, instead take the good news about the Lord out to the world.
Tomorrow I’ll write about a third lesson from this book.