February 5, 2014

Judges Judging US

by Jesse Johnson

Judges-when wrong becomes rightLast 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.

judges spiral

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.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • george canady

    Thanks Pastor jesse for the encouragement to look in the mirror first, We need that. Thanks for food for thought for today.

  • Dave

    Jesse, thanks for this post. In particular, the points in your introduction are so needed inside the Beltway and throughout the US. Too often I see people place the founding fathers’ writings alongside God’s Word, and it makes me sad. There is already a ‘religion’ that attempts to single-out North American history and try to graft it into Christianity as “another testament.” Whenever I see this I think of the believers around the world who have not, nor will ever, live under our Bill of Rights — and yet we will sing with them at our Master’s throne forever.

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  • kevin2184

    I miss hearing you preach at GCC, Jesse, but so glad to read your posts…and listen to you in The Situation Room.

    • Thanks Kevin. I had fun on the radio with Brannon yesterday too. Thanks for reading here.

  • Linda

    “Roped in”? Looks like we get that series after all. 😉

    I appreciate the reminder that the danger is internal. Thanks for the hours you devote to study that others might be taught, and for taking the time to write and share.

  • Melissa

    Jesse, I was wondering what you meant by “Bartonesque Americana.” I think I know, but I’m not certain.

      • mandi

        What a nasty little patheos article. Self-contradictory in many ways: 1. We must look to legitimate historians, those Grove City college professors were nothing of the sort. 2. Since when has endorsing Mitt Romney and same-sex marriage had anything to do with conservatism, biblically or politically? 3. Liberty University refuses to use Barton books, but Liberty University School of Law uses a Barton book. The author does realize Liberty University School of Law is a part of Liberty University, right?

        It was so nice of Throckmorton to apologize for missing one of the author’s lectures, but does that have anything to do with the idea that maybe, perhaps Throckmorton may have been at least partially motivated by animus towards Barton?

        Another question: when did the idea that our founders were Christians and based the structure of the government on biblical principles and idea that our federal government should remain secular and religious freedom robust become antithetical? Has Barton argued that? I’ve not heard him say such things. Perhaps reasonable minds can disagree, but that article seemed to be fueled by nothing but bitterness. What a shame. Of course, that’s coming from one of Barton’s “followers.”

        Jesse, have you met David Barton? If not, I’d encourage you to take the opportunity since you’re very close to a city that he frequents. He often gives after-hours tours of the Capitol, and I actually know someone who might be able to arrange for you to join the next one.

      • Melissa
        • Melissa

          Jesse, I had a feeling that was what you meant, but I was hoping it wasn’t. I posted a response with this article linked above, but it appears to be gone, I’m trying again. The article linked above is David Barton’s response to his critics and specifically addresses the issues that the Patheos article brings up. I hope you would take the time to read it. It’s fully documented (though the Patheos author would probably discount that since he seems to think David Barton’s footnotes don’t really mean anything). David Barton is an honorable man and the smear article that you mentioned is really not a good source to base your opinions on. I am most concerned that you would use that author/article as a basis for negatively portraying someone in your blog. Your personal opinions are just that, but you influence many people with your blog. You should make sure to have both sides of the story before making assumptions. Have you actually read the book Jefferson’s Lies? I have. It’s fully documented and balanced. If you haven’t, I suggest you read it before supporting an article that shreds its reputation.

          • Melissa

            Also, the article linked above states that the book was going to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013. That deal is ongoing, but David is adding new information to the book still along with working on several other book deals, speeches, and interviews, etc. So it’s just delayed. Just would hate to have someone accuse him of being inaccurate for that.

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