Image credit: Nicolas Raymond
In my previous article on Gideon I discussed the importance of one righteous man standing in the face of impossible odds. We saw how the angel of the Lord selected one courageous obedient man to lead a nation. And we read from the text that the angel of the Lord spoke to Gideon “O valiant warrior” launching both Gideon and Israel (and maybe America if we imitate them) on a trajectory toward total victory. There is a back story though that we ought to notice.
The back story is about national suffering and the repentance of God’s people. This story about Judge Gideon fighting for Israel is not the first of a judge saving their nation. There had been four judges prior to him who brought justice (hence the title ‘judge’) for Israel before her enemies.
Under Joshua Israel reaped great success defeating their enemies on every front. After he passed from the scene though we read:
The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years (Judges 3:5–8).
First Israel served the Baals and the Asheroth then as punishment God made them serve Cushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia. If they wanted to serve someone other than the Lord, then God gave them over to a human entity which, in the long run, is what the Baals and Ashteroth were anyway. They were manifestations of man’s imaginations and more darkly, of the Devil’s kingdom. It was the Judge Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother, who led them to war and victory after the people called out to the Lord and repented (Judges 3:9).
We Don’t Want to Worship God
The reason we should care about this is not because we need to have a fascination with ancient history. Rather, it lays out for us the importance as a nation of remaining faithful to God. It shows us that from the earliest eras nations of godly citizens were quickly misled into the worst of deceptions, even though they were the apple of God’s eye (Zachariah 2:8). America, given our many providences and protections, may also be understood as the apple of God’s eye as can any faithful Christian nation. We too have found and may find the protection of the Lord and His prospering gifts as we worship and serve Him rightly.
But the problem we find as individuals and as a nation is that we do not want to worship and serve God rightly. We dream up every possible notion about why God’s word does not apply to us at this time in history. We suppose that His definitions and demands for righteousness and justice have changed over the centuries and no longer apply. We tell each other that God’s perfect law of liberty is imperfect and cruel, and outdated, and only for national Israel four thousand years ago. We think that the definitions for justice have somehow changed so that what was once righteous and just is now to be set aside for different, modern ideas. These are deadly notions that lead us and our nation directly into God’s gun sights for judgment instead of blessing. We have become Israel needing judgment but do not understand our danger. We could live more righteously and justly and attract God’s blessings but we think ourselves wiser than we really are as we stumble along toward Gomorrah.
National Israel went through the cycle of righteousness—disobedience—God’s cursing and judgment—repentance—blessing—numerous times. Here in Judges we see three or four times before Gideon was raised up to save them once again.
Knowing Good & Evil
In a second judgment God from which God saved His people we read:
Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died (Judges 3:11).
Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees. The sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab (Judges 3:12–15).
This time it was Judge Ehud who led Israel to victory. The passage tells us that Israel “did evil in the sight of the Lord” and this was the reason that God raised up the king of Moab against them. We may wonder why the description of what Israel did wrong was so short. What exactly did the nation of Israel do to deserve the Lord’s judgment? How can any nation know when it is getting into trouble with God? How can Americans know when our behavior will attract the judgments and discipline of God? That is what we really need to know. How can we know when we have done evil in the sight of the Lord? Why such a short description if its answer is critical to a nation’s survival? It may appear to be a thorny problem at first glance but God expects us to know the answer easily.
God expects us to know when our nation is doing evil because He gave us His law to inform us. God’s law found across all His word but primarily in the books of Moses contains only about 630 laws we and our nation, need to obey. We are doing evil when we disobey God’s law. Our disobedience brings God’s judgments. The formula is pretty simple. Human governments pass hundreds of thousands of laws with our own US Federal Government passing 200–400 new regulations every day. God’s law is not like human law. His law is relatively short and simple and direct. Most of it can be understood by an ordinary high school student. God has given us the standard for right and wrong, good and evil. We have no excuse. We should understand when God tells us that Israel did evil and we ought to understand when He judges America because we have done evil. We should understand why our heads are on the chopping block so to speak. The eternal histories in heaven will read, “And America did evil in God’s sight and God sent _____ against them.” God’s definitions for justice and injustice, good and evil, have not changed. We ought to know.
Law & Judgment
Israel knew but did not believe, they were not paying attention. Of a third judgment we read:
Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. The sons of Israel cried to the LORD; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time (Judges 4:1–4).
Once again we read that Israel, “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Sometimes it seems that Israel simply did not learn from their mistakes. Again they cried out to the Lord and again He saved them. The next judge was Gideon. In our previous introduction to Gideon we found him beating out his grain harvest in the wine press. Israel had again forgotten God and He had brought them under harsh judgment. Gideon whom the angel of the Lord called “valiant warrior” was raised up to save the nation. We will discuss that more but for now the all-important lesson from Israel, Gideon, and the judges is that God promises nations either blessing or cursing depending on their behavior. If they keep His holy law He blesses them and if they break His law He judges them. We Americans ought to learn from Israel. Our disobedience to God and His law will surely bring further judgments. Those judgments will become more severe the longer we make ourselves enemies of God by our sinful living. If we want God to raise up deliverance for us like He did with Gideon and all the preceding judges then we need to repent. We need to start obeying the Lord in all things. This is the consistent lesson from Scripture. It is under that national commitment to obey God that greatness and victory are found.