July 15, 2010 David Balzer

Judges 1:1-2:5: The Degeneration Generation

Every year our young people go to Kyckstart. The Youth Convention at Katoomba. And they have  had a GREAT time. Good friends, great music, lots of fun, clear teaching from the Bible.

And it’s easy to follow God there. Easy when there’s 2000 young Christians around you. When there’s singing. When someone tells you when to go into the hall, when to open your Bible, when to listen. God seems CLOSE.

It’s easier to be COMMITTED, than it is to COMPROMISE.

This week though, they’ve come DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN. Back to the bustle of normal life. Of friends and family. Of distractions and temptations. Of TVs and computers. And God doesn’t seem so CLOSE.

It’s easy for Bible reading to be crowded out. For prayer to become rushed. For focus to shift, attention to wander, for enthusiasm to cool.

It’s a situation most of us have been in at some stage. We’ve had a mountain top experience. God, and eternal life, seem real and strong. Taking God’s side / seems the most obvious thing in the world.

But then we move on. Perhaps we return to work, or to family, or the city, or we’re on our own. Perhaps we move from the comfort of a Christian school to a secular workplace or Uni.

And, suddenly, following God seems a lot less certain. The problems seem bigger, and the opposition seems stronger.

And we’re tempted to BLEND IN. Tempted to COMPROMISE, rather than stand out.

Starting well

That’s the situation that faced God’s people ISRAEL. We take up their story at the start of the book of JUDGES. Things have changed. The major turning point is there in the very first phrase. “After the death of Joshua”

We’re a generation into their occupation of the Promised Land. God brought them out of Egypt, with Moses as their leader. They’d wandered around in the desert for 40 years, with God doing all sorts of miraculous things. Following wherever God led.

Then Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land, and God puts Joshua in charge. And it’s Joshua’s job to lead the people into Canaan, and conquer it with God’s help. To drive out the nations. Completely remove them from the land.

And that’s what the BOOK of JOSHUA describes. The one before Judges. And, for the most part, the people STARTED fairly well. There’s the spectacular crossing of the Jordan River, where God stops the water flowing, so the people can cross over. Then there’s the incredible story of the city of Jericho. God destroys the walls, and they conquer it easily.

Plenty of other successes. Where the people do EXACTLY what God commands.

But it’s an UNFINISHED JOB. They never get round to COMPLETELY removing the other nations. The locals are still hanging around. The locals who sacrifice their children in the fire. Or commit all sorts of sexual sin. As they worship their idols like Baal and Molech.

God says, take the land. And DON’T COMPROMISE. Don’t be tempted to fool around…… no love affairs…… with the gods made of stone and wood. Don’t fall into the trap… of being overtaken themselves. By the customs and religions of the land you’re taking.

When JOSHUA was around, they started WELL. The last few paragraphs of the book of Joshua summarise how things went when HE was around. Josh 24:31

31 Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.

So how will the NEXT generation go? As the old heads die out, and new ones grow up. Kids who grow up not knowing warfare, not knowing travelling in the desert. Not seeing God miraculously providing manna for them to eat every morning without fail. Not seeing the spectacular pillar of cloud or fire leading them through.

And day to day things become much more EVERYDAY. Growing enough food to put on the table. Getting on with the neighbours. Building a life. Everyday concerns that just seem to take up too much attention to be worrying anymore about driving out the nations.

Will the new generation be one who CONTINUES to be COMMITTED? Or who CAVES IN to COMPROMISE? Will they be a generation of REGENERATION or DEGENERATION?

Judah

And now, with Joshua dead, and the new chapter begins. It’s JUDAH who take the lead. They join up with the tribe of Simeon (v3) and they start to take their bit of land.

Things look positive. Judah shows the kind of commitment God wants. Determined not to compromise. Look at v 4:

When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.

No hint of a compromise there. They completely destroy the Caananites. Like God wants them to. Even their king. Adoni Bezek. Look at what happens to him in v 6, Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big. No deals. No compromise.

But, if you’re like me, this approach sounds harsh. Cutting off someone’s thumbs and big toes. It doesn’t seem the kind of thing God would want his people to do at all. But notice something important. Adoni-Bezek isn’t being treated UNFAIRLY, he’s getting exactly what he deserves. This is JUSTICE. Even HE acknowledges it. V7. “70 kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table.”

Judah gives Adoni Bezek what he’s spent his life giving other people. Their policy of no deals and no compromises is FAIR. It’s exactly the way God WANTS it.

You see, removing the foreign nations is doing TWO THINGS. It’s not only getting rid of things that will tempt Israel away from their relationship with God. It’s also giving cruel pagans like Adoni Bezek the punishment they DESERVE.

God said it himself back in Deut 9:5 as Israel stood poised to take the land.

5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you,

The nations DESERVE it. And as Judah’s campaign goes on, they stay single-mindedly committed to God. They attack and destroy Canaanites all over their land. In verse 8 they attack Jerusalem and destroy it. Vs 9 they fight the Caananites in the hill country, in the Negev, and in the western foothills. Vs 10 they take over Hebron.

And they’re ENTHUSIASTIC about it. They’ve got characters like Othniel. Who’d fit in well with King Arthur and the knights of the round table. A real hero. In v 13 he captures a whole city to win the hand of his wife. And Acsah his wife is a bit of a hero too. She wants the land just as much as God wants to give it to her. She does everything in her power to make sure her family gets a good bit of land with a water supply.

To sum it up. Judah is a model tribe. They’re wholeheartedly devoted to their relationship with God. They want the land he’s giving them. And they destroy anything that might tempt them to fool around with idols and other religious practices.

But even with Judah, there’s a hint that things aren’t quite right. A hint that when we move to look at the other tribes, we won’t find things quite as rosy. Look down at v19.

19 The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.

Isn’t there something about that verse that just strikes you as being NOT QUITE RIGHT? That maybe things aren’t as black and white as we’d like?

This is the God who parted the Red Sea, who stopped the Jordan River, who collapsed the walls of Jericho. Are iron chariots going to stop him? Of course not!

Is this the beginning of COMPROMISE? Of Judah beginning to doubt their task? To doubt whether God’s big enough to keep his promises?

Downhill from there

There’s no commentary from the writer either way. He just STATES it. But it sets up a nagging doubt about how well Judah’s REALLY doing. That perhaps COMPROMISE is closer than COMMITMENT.

And as we move into how the OTHER tribes do. That suspicion’s confirmed. Because, the sad thing is, Judah ISN’T typical. From the commitment of Judah, it’s only DOWNHILL FROM THERE. From v21

Most of the other tribes of Israel. Manassah, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, Dan. They’re NOT committed to God like Judah. Not interested in belonging to God ALONE. When THEY move into the land they’re happy to DO DEALS. Happy to COMPROMISE.

Joseph is a classic case (v22). The tribes of Manassah and Ephraim. When they attack the city of Luz it’s deals and compromises all the way. They make an agreement with a Canaanite and it backfires. v 22.

Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, and here’s where they make the deal They say to him “Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.

They agree to treat one of the Canaanites well. And it’s a big mistake. V25. Because even though they capture the city, even though their man helps them destroy the ORIGINAL Luz, when it’s over he goes and sets up a replica city down the road. The same name, the same Canaanites. And the same pagan idols.

It’s a long way from Judah. With their “no deals, no compromise” approach. What a contrast between what happens to Adoni-Bezek. What a contrast to cutting off the big toes and thumbs of your enemy. The man from Luz goes free. The house of Joseph show they’re happy to have pagans living down the road. With their idols and wickedness so close.

And so are the OTHER tribes. None of them go to the trouble of driving out the Canaanites. We already know that Manassah and Ephraim have a taste for deals. But look in V 30:

Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labour. Nor did Asher drive out those living in their area.

And v 32 because of this, the people of Asher LIVED AMONG the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. And it’s the same story with Naphtali in v 33 Don’t drive the Canaanites out. Subject them to forced labour. And the Danites. Well the Danites CAN’T BE BOTHERED moving in to their land at all. v 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain at all.

Deals, treaties, compromises. That’s the story of most of the tribes. They’re wholeheartedly committed to God. Happy to live alongside the Canaanites and their pagan religions.

And did you notice? It’s not that they COULDN’T drive out the Canaanites. They’ve got POWER over them. V28 says when they became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into FORCED LABOUR. V30 as well, and 33 and 35.

They CAN DO what they should do. Drive them out completely. Power’s not the problem. The problem, is THEY CAN’T BE BOTHERED.

They’re not COMMITTED to being exclusive. As they move into their new land, they’re happy to have all their old boyfriends living next door. It’s a situation that’s sure to end in outright unfaithfulness. Sin’s not really that bad after all.

God’s not impressed

And God’s not impressed. He’s angry about Israel’s lack of devotion. He’s angry Israel isn’t committed to him. That they’re fooling around with the pagans. And so he calls Israel together. And he confronts them. Ch 2v1:

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant WITH YOU 2 and YOU shall not make a covenant with THE PEOPLE OF THIS LAND, but you shall BREAK down their altars.’… Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?

God had made a deal with his people. “I’ll be your God, you be my people. I’ll GIVE you the land, you just have to TAKE IT.”

That was the deal. All they had to do was BE FAITHFUL.  Their deal with GOD meant NOT doing deals with the Canaanites.

The way to NOT break their covenant with God was to BREAK DOWN the altars the false gods.

God had kept HIS side of the bargain. But the people HADN’T. They’d done deals. They’d let the Canaanites and their pagan altars stay right among them. They’d compromised. Serving God on the ONE hand. Wheeling and dealing with the pagans on THE OTHER.

But compromise with ungodliness can never work. It’s like putting one foot into the mud on each side of an electric fence. As you slowly sink down, trying to keep one foot on each side / is just asking for PAIN. You can’t HALF belong to God.

So God will teach them a lesson. He knows compromise leads to outright unfaithfulness. Because they’ve refused to drive out the Canaanites, because they’ve been half-hearted. God will REFUSE to drive them out. He’ll KEEP them there/ to DISCIPLINE his people. To prove the point. Compromise isn’t EASY, it’s DANGEROUS. He says in 2v3

“Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a SNARE TO YOU.”

How silly is it to walk for hours with a thorn in your shoe/ because you can’t be bothered to take your shoe off, and get the thorn out. Your LAZINESS will cause you a whole lot of pain.

Same thing with the people. They can’t be bothered to drive out the locals. So God’s going to show them the pain it causes.

And if you look in the second half of Judges 2 you’ll see things turn out exactly how God says. It’s a summary of the whole book of Judges. And time after time, The Canaanites are a THORN in the Israelites’ side. The Canaanites’ gods are a snare to them. Israel’s compromise becomes complete and absolute unfaithfulness.

Remember what it said at the end of Joshua? Israel served God as long as Joshua and the rest of his contemporaries lived. But have a look at how things turned out once they died. Judges 2.10.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger

And even when God sends judges to lead the Israelites and deliver them, they still won’t stop their adulterous relationships with other gods. v 17 “They wouldn’t even listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them.”

The Israelites don’t meet their challenge. Instead of faithfulness and commitment to God. They compromise. They fool around with the customs and religions of the Canaanites. And they fall right into the trap God was so keen for them to avoid. They completely forsake him. End up in open adultery. More committed to pagan gods than to him.

A story for us

It’s a sordid story really. The story of Israel’s unfaithfulness. But it’s a story FOR US. If you’re a Christian it’s a story YOU need to hear. Because compromise is dangerous for Christians. Flirting with the world will lead to disaster for you too.

Like my friend Julie. She was a solid Christian. Went to a Christian school. Played music at church. Involved in Youth Group. Lots of Christian friends. But she got a job offer overseas. Research and lecturing. Great career opportunity. Good pay. Of course it’d be long hours. And it’d mean leaving all her Christian friends. But they didn’t seem like big worries at the time.

And when she got there, she didn’t have the same group of Christian friends. Church was full of a bunch of strangers. And she just drifted away from church.

And there were so many nice people at work she hardly needed Christian friends. And now she’s back, but seems like she’s given her faith away. So busy with her new job and new friends it just seems irrelevant. Small compromise/ leading to complete unfaithfulness.

And it’s a story you hear so often.

There are different compromises people make. But it leads to the same thing. Perhaps it’s compromises in business dealings, or tax returns, or investments. Perhaps it’s compromises on RELATIONSHIP ISSUES. Or PRIORITIES – making SOMETHING ELSE number one instead of God. And he gradually, imperceptively sinks down our lists of what matters most. Until he’s not even there at all.

It’s SO IMPORTANT we keep meeting together. To encourage each other. NO COMPROMISES. Because it’s SO EASY to slide down the slippery slope through compromise to unfaithfulness.

No one STARTS OFF CHOOSING to give up on Jesus. It’s a slow, gradual slope. So, don’t even START.

As a Christian you’re supposed to be different. In an exclusive relationship with God. So don’t get caught up in relationship or situations where you’ll have to compromise. Where you’ll have to give up something you believe in. Where you’ll have to do something you know God wouldn’t want. It might seem like a small decision at the time. But remember Israel. It’s dangerous.

Whether it’s at work, in your relationships, with your money or with your marriage. Don’t make the mistake Israel made. Be committed to God and his way. And don’t compromise.

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