Expository Sermon on Judges 2
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 9/21/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the YouTube broadcast of this service, click the link just below. The sermon starts at the 1:08:14 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 2.
For the last couple of months we’ve been walking through the books of the Old Testament one by one, trying to find out where Jesus may have left footprints. Because He did. We’ll see Him actually show up in person in Judges 2 today.
We may never understand the total truth about the Trinity, but a careful and wide-ranging study of the Bible indicates that God the Father’s role has been to be in heaven running the universe and providing power. Jesus’ role seems to have been to be the One who interacts with humanity, as we’ll see here in Judges 2. And the Holy Spirit serves as the gentle influence on the hearts of people, trying to draw them away from the world and back to God.
The book of Judges is sometimes a tough book to understand. In order to read it correctly you need to understand its historical context. And then, you have to slow down and read its words carefully.
This past week I read through Judges two complete times, taking notes as I went. This is different from the way I’ve read Judges in the past. In the past, I have sort of skimmed through it, and when my eye was caught by interesting stories like the one about Ehud, the left-handed dagger-maker, I would stop and read it.
Then comes the story of Deborah, which is a triumph of feminine leadership. I was mentioning to someone this week that without a lot of fanfare, the Bible simply introduces Deborah as one of the judges who ruled the land. Here’s a woman in top spiritual leadership, but Scripture doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It just says in Judges 4:4, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” There is no record of anybody protesting against that, no record of any effort to deny her that position. It just says that she did it.
And the story mentions that Deborah picks someone she thinks will be a great military commander, someone named Barak, and tells him that the Lord wants him to lead troops against a Canaanite nation. And Barak quickly tells her, “Hey, wait! I’m not going unless you come along.” And finally the story ends on a gruesome note, where another proactive woman pounds a tent stake through the temples of a sleeping Canaanite military general.
Then along comes Gideon, who (as the song says) “won the fight with the Midianites, because Gideon had the Lord.” And other judges come and go, and then comes Jephthah and the horrendously foolish vow he makes to the Lord. By the way, aside from the tragedy about his daughter, Jephthah actually stands out as being one of the most diplomacy-conscious military leaders in Bible history. When the Ammonite army is on the way to fight Israel, Jephthah sends a letter to their king wanting to know why they’re doing this. And then he gives his own reasons for why Israel is going to win the fight. But the Ammonite king doesn’t listen, and the war happens, and sure enough, Jephthah wins.
Then of course there is Samson, and after that comes a very strange and twisted story about a man named Micah and a young Levite priest who serves as Micah’s priest but somehow owns several foreign gods at the same time. And then comes the book’s ugliest story, which we will not go into here.
In order to try to make sense of Judges, I used to refer people to the book’s final verse: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
But that’s only a very limited way of looking at this book. This week I read through Judges more carefully than I’ve ever done before. And I discovered that Jesus literally appears in it, and literally speaks audible words to His chosen people.
There are actually several appearances of Jesus, once to the parents of Samson, once to Gideon, and His appearance here in chapter 2. I believe that as we listen to Jesus speak to His people, you and I can learn some important things that will sustain us in the times in which were living.
Judges chapter 2, of course, comes after Judges 1. In Judges 1, we see an ominous theme developing. The Israelites have entered the land of Canaan, but they don’t totally drive out its inhabitants as God had commanded. And this is going to spell trouble.
So the Lord Himself pays a visit to the nation.
Judges 2:1 [NKJV]: Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: . . . .
Before we find out what this Angel says, we need to find out who all is listening. Glance down at verse 4.
Verse 4: So it was, when the Angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the children of Israel . . . .
So everybody heard these words. This was almost another Mount Sinai experience. We don’t know where this Angel stood, or where all those people gathered, but we do know that everybody heard to Him.
If you’re using the New King James Version, which is the Bible we have in our pews, you’ll notice that it capitalizes the “A” in “Angel.” Normal angels don’t get their title capitalized. But this Angel is speaking as God, just the way the voice from Sinai spoke.
We don’t know whether this Angel was visible, but we know that the angel who appeared to Gideon was, and the angel who appeared to Samson’s parents was. So this Angel here in judges to is almost certainly Jesus Himself.
So, what is He saying to the Israelites there? And can what He says to them apply to us today? I think it can. Let’s look at a few things I believe Jesus is saying not only to them but to us.
Let’s look at verse one again.
Verse 1: Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim . . . .
What is Jesus’ first message to those Israelites, and to you and me, even before He opens His mouth? Here comes Sermon Point One if you’re taking notes. What is Jesus saying to us?
The first thing Jesus says is “I’m here.”
One of the most powerful things a political candidate can do is to show up. One of the things that got me annoyed when I was a kid was that no presidential candidate came to South Dakota. Once in a great while, a candidate would land at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, and say a few words on the tarmac, but then get back in the plane and go away. With its population of only 600,000 people, our state just doesn’t rate the rallies.
There was one major exception to this. When I was a student at Northern State College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, presidential candidate and South Dakota native George McGovern came and spoke to the student body. He was in the early stages of his presidential campaign, and I don’t remember anything of what he said, but I did get to shake his hand (he had sweaty palms). But he showed up. He came and talked.
This week, 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg took part in protests in New York City. There’s a good chance that the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who showed up for protests there might not have been as present and as enthusiastic if she herself hadn’t been there. But this serious young lady had traveled over the Atlantic in a zero-emissions boat. The fact that she arrived just before a major United Nations gathering, with her message, gave it greater power.
And Jesus, the Angel of the Lord (“Angel” simply means “messenger” in both Hebrew and Greek) Jesus shows up to speak to the nation of Israel, so He must’ve considered this a crucial moment.
And of course, Jesus was “there” all along. He knew what was happening. He had predicted what was going to happen back toward the end of Deuteronomy. And now He is coming to the nation to appeal to them directly to remember what Heaven has done for them.
And later on, in New Testament times, when He arrives as a human being, Jesus will often tell His disciples and anyone else who will listen, “I’m here. My name is Emmanuel, God with us. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
He said that two or three are gathered together in His name, He is here, among them. Which means that He is right here in this room, today, right now. And if that’s an unsettling thought, let’s keep reading and discover something comforting He wants us to know.
Verse 1: Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you.
What else is Jesus saying to us here?
Not only does He say, “I’m here,” but He also says, “I care.”
“I’m here, and I care.” That’s either good or bad news, depending on where your attitude is. Revelation says that those who are selfish and wicked will not greet the coming of Christ with enthusiasm. Instead, they will try to hide. Those who know who Jesus is, and knows how much He cares, and have surrendered their hearts and their futures to Him, will say, “This is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us.”
Whatever you’re going through right now, Jesus is close by, and He cares. You might not be able to see Him, or hear Him as those Israelites did on that occasion, but He knows what’s going on. He knows who may be treating you badly.
And He also knows who you might be treating badly. But that’s okay. If He shows up in your life, it’s to help you. And even if He doesn’t show up personally and dramatically, He’s always here.
Over the years, I’ve watched as parents bid goodbye one by one to their high school graduates as they leave for college. It used to be that parents would tell me how hard it is to be apart from their kids. And it still is, of course, but nowadays parents don’t seem to be as jolted by the empty nest syndrome. And the reason, of course, is that there are several electronic ways to see and talk with, and be with, a distant child, at least once a day. And I’m sure this is a comfort both to mom and dad and to the faraway student. Have you thought about Jesus wanting to constantly be on Skype or Facetime with you?
So Jesus is here, and He cares. And we’re about to hear just what He cares about.
Verses 1 – 2: Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this?
So what else was Jesus saying to these Israelites? Let’s lay down next sermon point and see if it applies to us.
Not only does Jesus say, “I’m here,” and “I care,” but He also says, “I’ve kept My promises—why haven’t you kept yours?”
Now of course, Jesus hasn’t commanded anybody in this room to occupy a foreign country and eliminate that country’s religious culture. In fact, a lot of damage has been done by Christians down through the centuries as they’ve thoughtlessly and brutally tried to do this in the name of Christ.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I enjoyed my seminary training. But there was one class I didn’t enjoy – “music and hymnology.” I didn’t enjoy it because the teacher, who was an otherwise very nice person, firmly believed that the highest expression of worship music came from composers who either were, or sounded like, Johann Sebastian Bach.
However some of the students in this music and hymnology class were from Africa. These were earnest Seventh-day Adventist seminarians, and back home they sang different music, which was just as fervently worshipful as Bach’s was. And these seminarians refused to believe that in order to truly worship God they needed to change their music culture.
So I and a lot of other students watched uneasily as these African students debated this teacher. And even though the teacher maintained his composure, we could see a red flush starting up his neck, which would eventually cover his face!
So when Jesus tells the people, “I’ve kept my promises – why haven’t you kept yours?” He is of course talking to a specific group of people, to whom He gave specific instructions before they entered Canaan, instructions which they mostly ignored.
But if you transfer this situation to the New Testament, you really have the same thing happening. Jesus arrives, and communicates very clearly that He is here, and that He cares. But He doesn’t just walk around Palestine for 3 ½ years and silently heal people. Instead, He has instructions for us. He delivers the Sermon on the Mount. He tells parables. He quotes the Old Testament from time to time. He is so outraged at what’s going on in His Father’s temple that He strides through its courts tipping over moneychangers’ tables.
In other words, Jesus says things and does things, He wants us to live by, and He will hold us accountable for these. We know this because, in the last couple of verses of Matthew, He told His disciples not only to go and baptize people in all nations, but to teach them everything He told them.
Jesus, you see, is the “Word” of God, not the picture-portrait or carved image of God, but God’s “Word.” How seriously do we take His words into our lives? “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God.” God’s words, and His Son’s words, are what we live by.
So this is something you and I need to put some thought and prayer into. This is why the habit of regular Bible reading (or Bible listening by audio) is so important. It’s why Sabbath school class discussions are so important. It’s why worship services are important.
We need to bathe ourselves, however we can, in real Bible words. There are good devotional books being written, there’s even a series of books written by a woman who writes her devotions as though Jesus Himself is speaking them. Those are well-meaning, but they are not as good as allowing real Bible print into your eyes or your ears.
A few weeks back I went to an eye doctor to get my eyes checked. I had noticed a little eyebrow-shaped shadow just above the central focal point in my left eye. So, along with the eye test, I asked the doctor about this. He took a photograph of my retina, and sure enough, he found a series of three or four tiny hemorrhages in the appropriate position on my retina. He assured me that these would probably heal up soon, and I see that they are doing that.
But it was so amazing to see my retina, and the little tiny veins in it, and to realize that most of what I know about the world around me has been flashed first on that smooth, rosy-tan surface.
And that is where the words of God need to be, as often as possible. I have a better understanding of the book of Judges since I read it through twice this week. I can see Jesus more clearly in that book. No longer does Judges seem to be just a crazy patchwork of sensational and sometimes brutal stories.
Instead, it’s a book where Jesus walks, the Savior who is near, and who cares. One of the things I was reminded of again as I read the book is that there were quite a number of times when, with a good judge in place, it says that “the land had rest 40 years,” or 30 years, or 10 years. There were quite a few of those “the land had rest” times.
Let’s look at just one more thing I found that Jesus seems to be saying to us here in Judges 2. This is a truth we have to treat very carefully, and not use it wrongly.
We start at the point where the people have just heard the very words of this Angel – was almost certainly Jesus Himself – and they recognize that these words come from a divine source. Watch what happens.
Verses 4 – 6: So it was, when the Angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept. Then they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to the LORD. And when Joshua had dismissed the people, the children of Israel went each to his own inheritance to possess the land.
And now it would be so nice to be able to write the words “The End,” and have this be the conclusion of the book of Judges. The people wept in repentance, they sacrificed to the Lord, and then they went back to their new estates in the promise land, to live happily ever after.
But of course that isn’t what happened.
Verses 7 – 13: So the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres, in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
And this same weary pattern keeps happening again and again. Let’s keep reading:
Verses 14 – 22: And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so. And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way. Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.”
Okay, what, if anything, is Jesus saying to you and me as we hear these verses? I mentioned that we have to use this final sermon point very carefully, and I need to phrase it very carefully.
Before I tell it to you, I’ll mention why think we need to be really careful here. Every once in a while, as a pastor, somebody going through hard times will ask me, “Am I being punished for something? Is the Lord trying to teach me something?”
Of course I am super-unqualified to make any sort of judgment like that. Obviouslly, if you’re doing something unhealthy to your body or your mind, and you get sick, that’s a cause-and-effect issue. So you just stop mistreading your body or mind. But usually I tell people that I don’t think they’re being punished for some specific misdeed.
However, I think we could put our final sermon point in a careful but useful way. What might Jesus be saying to me in what we just read?
In this chapter, I believe that not only does Jesus say, “I’m here,” and “I care,” and, “I’ve kept My promises—why haven’t you kept yours?” I believe that Jesus is also saying, “Learn from the hard times you’re going through.”
Again, the Lord can obviously do exactly what He wants in dealing with us. But even though I don’t think the Lord specifically punishes us right now for specific errors we do, He doesn’t want us to continue to commit those sins.
Jesus and other Bible writers make it very clear that in this world we will have tribulation. Some of this tribulation is direct persecution for our faith. Other tribulation is just because evil people are doing evil things, and we get caught in the crossfire. One selfish, unhappy coworker can ruin the morale of a whole office, or warehouse, or schoolroom.
And I believe we can learn from the tough times were going through. One thing we learn is humility. Another thing we can learn is the necessity of prayer. In Romans 5:3, Paul tells us that tribulation “works patience.”
So I believe that when we’re going through tough times, we should not only pray that we be rescued from them, we should also pray that the Lord will teach us what He wants to teach us through those hours of trial.
Back in Judges 2, Jesus arrived to tell the people that they needed to remember that He was their Savior. He had led them through crisis to the promise land. And they needed to remember the details about what He had done.
In these days, which are also times of crisis, in times like these, we need a Savior. That’s our closing song. Let’s stand together and sing about the Lord we need so much.