Years ago I had lunch with a man who was one of the first allies to enter a Nazi concentration camp in 1945…in fact him and one other soldier were the first two in.
He eventually became a pastor but he was not a believer on the day he walked into the camp…as you can imagine, it shook him to his core.
He remembers walking into the camp and he remembers one particularly disturbing event but there are whole days that his mind erased as soon as he left the camp.
The terrible things he saw, were deleted by his own brain.
Imagine for a moment if the Allies had entered Nazi territories where these death camps were located: For instance Auschwitz in Poland where over a million people were killed.
And they decided to just live at peace with the Nazis…to do their thing, Democracy, human rights…and to allow the Nazis to do theirs.
-Kill women and children
This thought, is course, inconceivable…and it’s impossible.
For those who struggle with what they read in the OT, this point is often over looked.
One or the other would have to change…or be killed…but they could not co-exist.
Nazism could not co-exist beside democracy…with human rights and freedom of worship.
This is similar in many ways to what Israel encountered when they entered Canaan.
The people who lived there did unspeakable things to women, to children…there was no human rights and no freedom of worship.
God gave them many opportunities to change…they did not.
When Israel entered the land…they encountered people groups who had become like the gods they worshipped…it was terrible.
God’s who demanded sexual perversion and the murder of children as acts of worship.
These Canaanites would either repent, be destroyed…or Israel would have to become like them…but they could not co-exist peacefully.
It was simply not possible…God is not cruel…but he is the ultimate realist…he designed reality.
Could you co-exist peacefully with someone who wanted you either dead or to become cruel like they were?
Israel would in fact abandon their God for the gods of these Canaanites…and they would then become like them in every way.
This is why the nation was eventually destroyed.
Listen to this partial bio of Manasseh one of Judah’s worst kings:
2 Kings 21:6 He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.
He became exactly like the Canaanites.
God was not cruel in his commands to subdue the land…he knew what was at stake.
Where are we in the storyline: Bible is a single narrative with many sub-plots
God created the cosmos and then mankind, created in his image, was given the opportunity to created and lead on earth and in so doing to experience the goodness of God.
Man rebelled against God…and that rebellion against God showed up in devastation in human relationships
God initiated mankind’s redemption through the calling of a single family, Abraham’s, from whom the Messiah would come.
The promise made to Abraham becomes partially fulfilled after centuries as they entered back into their homeland…Canaan.
Battles were fought with these Canaanite people who wanted Israel destroyed.
Some in the land did repent and were allowed to assimilate…Rahab, the Gibeonites.
Others were allowed to continue their worship of false gods and the corresponding evil that went with that worship…and they become the influencers of Israel rather than Israel influencing them.
This was what God said would happen if they disobeyed…and this
This is the story of the book of Judges.
Where you hear “Judges”…Don’t think “courtroom”…a regional military/political leader
-A sort of “war Lord” Like you would see still in places like Afghanistan, or Somalia
There were multiple local judges in Israel, sometimes their work overlapped in different parts of the land.
The book of Judges is bloody and it outlines Israel’s failure…how they became exactly like the people around them.
But it also foretells hope…God does not give up on his messed-up people…and he used messed up people for his purposes.
Let’s walk through the book by asking three questions:
1. Why does Israel get into such a terrible situation?
2. What happened to them as a result of their failure to obey?
3. How bad did it really get?
These are the right questions to ask if you read Judges.
Because they are what the book answers…if you read it looking for character lessons, or hero stories…you can learn what “not to do”
But to understand the purpose of the book…you are asking the wrong questions.
Question 1 “Why does Israel get into such a terrible situation as a nation?”
Chapters 1 and 2 answer that question:
-They failed to completely conquer the land and
-They forgot to remember their God
So they became just like the people around them.
This land that was supposed to be a blessing for them and a staging ground for blessing the whole world…but became a complete mess.
Chapter two gives the outline for the rest of the book.
1. After Joshua died a new generation forgot all God had done…they worshipped the various gods of the people around them…became like those gods.
2. God handed them over to raiders, the regional enemies 3. The people became distressed, cried out to God
4. God raised up judges who brought relief
5. They had peace for a bit
6. The people turned back, even worse than before.
The rest of the book describes this cycle…but not merely a cycle but a downward spiral.
That leads us to question two.
Question 2: “What happened to them as a result of their failure to remain faithful?”
Chapters 3-16 outlines what happened.
We see these downward cycles of: Sin, oppression, repentance, deliverance, peace, sin
First some short stories:
-Deborah…these are not super church stories…violent, bloody…they show the cycle repeats over and over.
Next the three main judges are longer and progressively worse…they show the cycle is a downward spiral.
1. Gideon: Is a flawed man but he learns to trust God and leads 300 men against a superior force, the Midianites.
But then he makes an idol out of some gold he got from one of his victories…and his family and eventually the larger community worshipped this idol…and they spiraled downward.
2. Jephthah: Was a thug living in the hills. His father had some social status but he was the illegitimate son of a prostitute.
He was rejected by his half-brothers who drove him away. 9
He gathered some mercenaries around him and became a sort of soldier for hire.
Eventually the local leaders ask him to come defend them against the Ammonites who were waging war on them.
*This is similar to a common theme in old Western’s and now in modern hero movies.
The weak townsfolk hire the gun fighter or Gotham City asks Batman to defeat the enemy.
They don’t like Batman, but they dislike the Joker more.
So Jephthah agrees to be their leader but he demonstrates how far from the true God he really is.
He makes this vow to the Lord that if he gives him victory he will sacrifice whatever comes out of his house to meet him when he returns from battle.
He does experience victory but it is because God is taking care of his people, not because of his foolish vow.
When he returns home…his daughter comes out to greet him…and he is devasted but follows through on his vow.
This was not what God wanted done…the Bible tells us what happened here…not what should have happened.
What should he have done?
1. Not make a silly vow…he was confusing the true God with the Canaanite gods who could be manipulated by such foolishness
2. He should have repented of making the silly vow…not sin further by following through on it.
Again…He treated the God of Israel as if he were a Canaanite god who could be bribed and bartered with…who delighted in human sacrifice.
So we see that Israel’s leader…has no idea as to the character of their God.
That is the point of this Narrative…God is faithful to deliver his people, such that he will even use people like Jephthah.
3. Samson: Is by far the worst:
He is sexually perverse, violent, and arrogant.
His life ends in violent rush of mass murder.
The fact that God uses these really messed up people doesn’t mean he endorses all or any of their decisions.
The Scriptures record what did happen…not necessarily what should have happened…starting in the garden with Adam and Eve.
God is committed first and foremost to saving his people…so he works with these people.
The whole story is not about heroes…that’s the opposite of the intent of the book.
It shows that eventually you can’t even tell the Israelites and the Canaanites apart…that is how bad it had gotten.
Which leads to question three..
Question 3. “How bad did it really get?”
Chapters 17-21…answers that question with…”It got really bad.”
*Two horrible stories illustrate this fact:
1. First story is simple terrible.
An Israelite named Micah builds a private temple to a false god…this is bad.
Some other Israelites from the tribe of Dan had become a sort of Hells Angels Street gang (without the motorcycles)…this is really bad.
They come and steal all the stuff from Micah’s temple…then just so to show how mean and nasty they were they attacked a local, and peaceful town of their own people and killed and pillaged there.
Judg. 18:27 Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city.
This is very shocking stuff and we are supposed to see that…
When Israel forgets God then the Promised Land, a place that should have been a utopia becomes dystopian…a ruined state of human affairs…lawless, cruel, ugly.
You can easily look around our nation and see much of this happening, and in fact for all the nations of the world…this is true.
The final story is even more shocking…
You can read it but if were made into a movie…you would not want to watch it…at least I would not.
Very disturbing series of events that describe great perversity and lead to Israel’s first civil war.
These stories are meant to disturb us.
We are supposed to say “Are you kidding me? What in the world is going on?”
And the answer is given four times in this final section:
Judg. 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.
did as he saw fit.
In those days Israel had no king. In those days Israel had no king.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone
Notice how the section is framed by the same phrase but with the addition of “everyone did as he saw fit.”
That’s what’s going on.
This is the story of Judges…and the story of humanity without King Jesus.
The book of Judges is no children’s book.
It serves to show Israel’s decline and to set up the next books…1, 2 Samuel…the rise of the Kingdom.
Samuel is the last Judge and he fails to deliver them but he anoints the first King, Saul, who does deliver the people…and he eventually fails to be faithful.
His will because of his rebellion…freefall into madness and death.
But we will get there, to the Kings, next week.
Judges is a Dark, Difficult book…but it does show God’s determination to rescue his people and remain faithful to his covenant.
But fortunately we don’t have to end this morning in the darkness of Judges
Because the next book in our Bible demonstrates this same truth, God’s determination to rescue his people…in a beautiful and heartwarming way…so we will go there now.
In fact it, though I did not plan it to work out this way…(didn’t even think of it till yesterday).
Ruth is a great Valentine’s day story…love for God that leads to beautiful interpersonal relationships…it is a love story.
The little book that follows Judges in our Bibles is Ruth It begins like this…”In the days when the judges ruled…”
But though this story took place during the dark time of the judges…it is very different from the dark narrative of the judges.
It has three main characters:
1. Naomi: An Israelite woman who has a difficult life that God redeems in the end.
2. Ruth: A faithful Moabite woman (one of Israel’s long- time enemies) who demonstrates God’s love for all people and his desire to bless all who follow him in faith and faithfulness.
-You might remember that Israel entered Canaan through Moab and the strange false prophet Balaam was from there…Ruth was from there.
3. Boaz: A faithful Israelite man who knows and follows the law and is blessed because of it.
It has four chapters:
1. In the days when the judges ruled:
-An Israelite family in Bethlehem during a severe famine go to Moab, Israel’s long time enemy, in order to survive.
*It was about a 30 mile walk from Bethlehem to Moab.
There Naomi’s two sons marry some Canaanite women…then her husband dies and after a few more years both of her sons die.
It is a very tragic story…in fact Naomi, a name that means “pleasant”, changes her name to Mara a name that means “bitter”
Naomi hears things have turned around in Canaan and decides to return but tells her daughter’s in law to stay in Moab because their prospects won’t be good if they go with her.
They are widowed, Canaanites…they are not likely to find a husband back in Israel…and widows did not fare well back then.
Ruth shows remarkable loyalty…she says “I’m going…and your God will become my God.”
She becomes a follower of Yahweh…through her loyalty for Naomi.
2. Ruth’s faithfulness becomes evident to Boaz
It just happens to be the beginning of barley harvest
And it just so happens to be that her relative owns the fields and is a man of noble character.
I say “It just so happens” tongue in cheek…of course it just so happens because of God’s providence in all these circumstances.
Boaz takes measures to protect and care for Ruth…God’s hand is all over this story.
3. Chapter 3 is where Ruth is determines to redeem Boaz.
There was a tradition at the time called “The Family redeemer”
When a man dies, then family redeemer is to marry the widow in so doing protect that family line.
The family redeemer is offered to the next eligible man until one is able and willing to take on the role.
Boaz checks on Ruth’s character and finds that she is a faithful woman and so he makes plans to redeem her…to marry her.
The language used to describe Ruth (Noble character) is the word used to describe the woman in Proverbs 31.
4. At the last minute there is a closer family member than Boaz, who is eligible to marry Ruth…but he declines and so Boaz is able to marry her instead…a son is born
There are few things that stand out in this story:
1. It is the opposite of the book of judges…Boaz and Ruth act within the boundaries of God’s law, and it a beautiful thing to see.
2. God is hardly mentioned; the characters do some…but unlike other books the narrator doesn’t at all.
But this is so we will see for ourselves the providence of God throughout the story…he is not mentioned because he is evident throughout…we are supposed to see that very clearly.
The difficult details are like the knotty side of a tapestry…it looks random and ugly…then you turn it over and you see all those seeming disconnected knots form a beautiful picture of grace.
But it gets even better than “Happily ever after for Ruth and Boaz (and Naomi)”
3. The real climax is a genealogy…a list of a family line. Ruth and Boaz had a son..
This baby’s name was Obed, his son was Jesse, and his grandson was King David.
Not only does God tie the knots together to weave a beautiful story for this family but this family is part of the larger story of redemption for the world.
Their child is the grandfather of King David…and in the family line of King Jesus.
See how the dark book of Judges…is flooded with the light of God’s providence and eternal plans through the story of this single Moabite woman named Ruth.
Judges is life without God…everyone doing as they saw fit…and it wasn’t good.
Ruth is life with God…letting him define good and evil…and it was beautiful.
In the dark days of the Judges…there was the beautiful story of Ruth.
One of the tensions that Scriptures presents very well here (and throughout) is…the Sovereignty of God and the choices of humans.
Not tension as in (nervous, or worried) but tension as in a muscle or guitar string…balance.
Tension as in two important and real things that must be held equally true in order to live in line with what is real.
The past 30 years I’ve read a couple dozen books on this tension…God’s sovereignty and human choice.
Of course I’ve read the Bible many times as well trying to understand this better.
My conclusion after all this reading…is that…
**God is fully sovereign and we are fully responsible to make good choices.
You might be saying, you could have saved a lot of time and reading…I could have told that you myself.
You’re right…That’s true…it is that simple and that complex.
God is fully sovereign AND
We are fully responsible
We see this played out on the national scale in these first 6 books of the Bible
Then on a very personal scale in the book of Ruth.
Only God could have arranged the details of Ruth and Boaz’s lives…and yet Ruth and Boaz would have missed God had they not been faithful personally.
My person conviction is:
-We should Pray, believe, live as if God is fully in control…because he is.
-We should Pray, act, live as if our choices fully matter…because they do.
This is not a contradiction…it may be called a paradox(a seeming contradiction)…but is more a mystery.
Mystery simple means we don’t know all the factors…we might never know them all…but that is true for most of what we experience in our lives.
We live comfortable and effectively with many mysteries…about our own bodies, and souls, and the world around us.
We move through our days living in the midst of mysteries…gravity, light are not fully understood…yet you are alive because of them right how.
How food ends up on a table is a complete mystery to a child…they don’t understand the food chain…or your job to earn money…or how the oven works.
They just know…they sit down and there is they food. They don’t starve because the process is a mystery.
You don’t have to have all the details of the mysteries figured out live quite well.
We must hold this tension…God is sovereign and we must choose.
Like a tension on a piano or guitar string…the tension allows music.
To lose the tension is to lose the music and the beauty.
Read Ruth this week if you can…its short.
When you read Ruth 1:1 “In the days when the judges ruled”
Remember what that meant was going on during those days…it was terrible, it was ugly.
Then read on and see how this Moabite woman…who suffered so much, who left her home because she wanted to be faithful to serve Naomi…experienced God’s goodness.
Read about her courage, and risk, and humility.
Read about a man named Boaz…who had character and was generous and kind.
God was in control of all of this…and God honored their courage and humility and faithfulness…their choices.
God will honor yours as well…be faithful…Trust (God is in charge) and obey (your choices matter)
Gal. 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
This conditional “if” does not mean Paul doesn’t believe in God’s sovereign control…he assumes it.
Yet, this does not negate the necessity for us to choose courage and endurance and obedience “doing good”…if we are to see the harvest of his faithfulness.
Let’s finish with three verses side by side…that tell the story.
Ruth 1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
Ruth 4:22. Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.
Matt. 1:17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
There are hundreds of years from Abraham to Ruth and from to Jesus. All those years are connected by the promise and providence of God.
So many years and days of individual people living their lives.
You can quickly read of the generations but keep in mind that those individuals who made up those generations lived their lives a year, a day, a minute, a second at a time just like you do.
You can see God is at work when you read of the movements in a single glance but it is much more difficult to do so when you live in the minutes.
Remember, for God to work his will in the large movements he must do so in the minutes as well.
Think of God in the large movements of history…trust God in the single moments of your life.
Trust and obey…God is sovereign and your choices matter.