Israel amid the Canaanites, or: The Church in the World.
This passage of Scripture must not become a bit of ancient Hebrew history. It will become just that unless we understand that God, in kindergarten style, is holding before us certain eternal Principles. These principles underlie the Kingdom of heaven. One of these is the principle of the Antithesis. Israel is surrounded by the world in order that it should say “no” to that world. God had said “no” to these nations for He had principally destroyed their power. Now Israel must be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). No less important is the ever recurring truth that the Covenant is established in the way of obedience, and in no other way. Moses had long said: I set before thee blessing and cursing, life and death. On Calvary’s brow we finally see that there was but ONE who was able to render that obedience.
There were Nations Left in the Land of Canaan: (vs. 5, in view of 1-5). There were seven nations in Canaan when Israel entered…there are remnants of these nations here now.
Observe: The wonderful unity between our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Chapter 1 and 2:1-3 and 2:20 tell us that Israel defaulted. Chapter 2:21 tells us that these remnant nations were the result of Israel’s negligence. But 2:23 tells us that “the Lord left these nations here” and He did that already before Israel defaulted. Chapter 3:1 tells us: “The Lord left these nations here.” You recall, do you not, how Eli’s sons disobeyed their father, because the Lord would slay them. And when Amaziah disobeys the word of the prophet, the prophet says: I know that God hath determined to destroy thee because thou hast done this, namely, disobeyed the Word of God. Israel’s disobedience is a symptom.
1. In the way of Israel’s default God lets the nations around Israel. If God discovers so much of His secret to us, He also wants to tell us why He left these nations here.
Reason 1—To prove Israel by them. I.e. silver is tried by fire and gold is purified by flame, so Israel shall be tried, it shall become manifest, it shall make itself known. Both now and in the future God tries His workmanship. And as Jesus said once upon a time, every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out. It shall become manifest who is Israel and who is not.
Observe: James says we also have fiery trials which try us. What does this mean?
Reason 2—To teach Israel war, i.e. to provide them circumstances to engage in the Holy War of the Lord. The Lord is always at war. Who of Israel are of God’s Party? Let it become evident. Will they fraternize with the world with which God is at war? Or will they be of God’s Party?
Discussion: 1. Are we often (always? ever?) tried by circumstances which we ourselves have brought on? 2. James 1:12 speaks of the END or fruit of trial in the children of God: what does this mean? 3. Can you cite some examples of the church fraternizing with the world instead of being “at war?” 4. If into a rural community there is to come a theatre or dance hall or saloon, must we fight to keep it out or must we assume the attitude that it is perhaps just as good that it come in, since then we shall be able to show our colors better?
2. No less than with Israel of old we have the world round about us. We have the world in our hearts. Our old human nature remains with us until the end.
Observe: That the Covenant shall be established in the way of and where men fight the good fight of faith.
The Common Grace Theory stands condemned because it dulls men’s senses to the necessity of warfare and inspires them to look at the world as a cripple who wants our help instead of an enemy who seeks our downfall.
Question: How can we in our family life engage in this holy warfare? What place has the Christian School in this Covenant scheme? In what sense is Christ the Captain in this Warfare?
Note: In the letters to the 7 churches in the book of Revelation, there is one statement recurring every time, and that is that the victory shall be to “him that overcometh.”
This passage identifies Israel’s sin (vss. 6, 7) tells us that wrath came, but acquaints us with the fact that in the midst of wrath comes grace, and there appears the first of the long series of Judges.
1. Israel’s awful sin (vss. 6, 7). In direct and flagrant opposition to the entire Law of God, Israel joins itself very intimately with heathendom. It makes friends of God’s enemies. As if making friends of God’s enemies were a small matter, they go beyond, to marry them.
Observe: Israel, in its sons and daughters, is married to the Lord. Now they marry also the world.
Question: I Cor. 6:15—how did it apply to Israel and how does it apply to us today? Discuss this. Israel forgot the Lord, i.e. they put God out of their minds in order that they might satisfy themselves with idolatry.
We Might Ask: What was there about it which made this heathen idolatry so utterly attractive and completely appealing to the covenant people? Think of it this way: This idol worship was accompanied with extreme sensuality. BUT it went under the excuse of being religious. In other words, it provided them a license to indulge fully, in all manner of sensuality and sexual perversion. Isn’t a natural church member always looking for such a license?
Note: Don’t our bathing beaches provide people with license to dress and act shamefully?
Discussion: 1. What constitutes a mixed marriage? Does marrying across denominational lines imply (always, ever) a mixed marriage? 2. What holy irony: that which was labeled by the world as “culture” is actually so abominable that if Israel touch it, God’s wrath breaks out against them. Can you find an analogy in today’s culture? 3. When Israel engaged in this synthesis: had they forgotten about the Law…did they argue against the Law, or did they do this under pretense of keeping the Law? Which? Or what else?
2. Israel’s Distress. Wrath pours down from heaven, in a very tangible way. God “sells” Israel into the hands of a northern army, Syria.
Question: What does it mean that God “sells” them? Do you think the Syrians knew that they were a tool in God’s hands?
Note: It must have seemed strange to these heathen nations that they could so easily conquer a nation which henceforth had been so mighty. (Cf. II Chron. 24:24).
3. Israel’s Deliverance. Israel cried unto the Lord. This includes repentance…does it? Or was it only terror? How are we to account for it that eight years of bondage had passed over them before Israel cried? How come they did not cry at once? Does the eight years perhaps show how far they were away from the Lord?
God’s Spirit comes upon a man called Othniel. And for His Covenant’s sake the Lord delivers Israel. Notice the Spirit; the same Spirit always operating to redeem the people sealed by grace. In Christ that Spirit finally brings complete and eternal deliverance. It is the Spirit of Christ already operating toward redemption and deliverance.
Warning: Grieve not the Holy Spirit.
Twenty Years Oppression
Rembrandt was a master painter. Frequently he would start a picture with painting a dark background. But he did this purposely. Against that dark background he would draw his picture and the contrast was beautiful.
In every one of the Judges we see deliverance by the miracle of grace. That’s the picture God wants us to see. But we must see it against the dark background of Israel’s sin.
Our present lesson will be an attempt to see and help each other and then, in the next sketch to see the Master Painter outline deliverance by grace at the hands of Deborah, another forerunner of Christ. We shall have to jump about a little in this lesson, but you will follow, I’m sure.
1. Israel sinned again (chapter 4:1). This is the ever-recurring refrain (cf. 3:12). Remember there had been a rest of 80 years (3:30) as a result of Ehud’s deliverance, and during that time Israel prevailed over its enemies. When Israel walked in righteousness they were exalted. But every time we read: they sinned again, and at once they are brought low.
Observe: The defection shows itself again in the new generation. There is usually at least a one generation gap between the deliverance and the new apostasy.
The apostasy shows itself in a certain corner of the land, now here, then there: but defection anywhere is a symptom of apostasy everywhere throughout the land.
Discussion: 1. How must we account for the repeated appearance of an apostate generation? Solomon saith: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.” Had this generation not been trained? How else shall we account for it? 2. Do the seeds of apostasy always already lie in the previous generation? In other words, here is a matter worth considering: In how far is the present generation responsible for the reprobate state of the succeeding generation? Election is realized “in the way of obedience,” reprobation is realized “in the way of disobedience”…In how far is one generation responsible for it that that other generation walks in the way of disobedience. 3. If Israel had had a central form of government would that have helped to maintain unity? 4. Doing evil again and again and again…could that be said of us too, we who are regenerated?
2. Israel’s lamentable condition at this time. a. Chapter 4:2 mentions Jabin, king of Hazor. Now if you will turn to Josh. 11:10, 11, you will find that Joshua once upon a time had utterly destroyed Hazor and routed this Canaanitish federation. How must we account for it that here Hazor is become a world power again? And they have 900 chariots of iron.
Opinion: Israel is no longer interested in fighting the wars of the Lord; they have put the thought of war far from them. They are too interested in their carnal enterprises to notice the enemy growing up under their very noses. Too deaf to hear the enemy blacksmiths pounding out the chariots…too drunk to realize that this is an enemy preparing to destroy them.
Observe: Chapter 5:8 tells us also that while Hazor made its implements of war, Israel had neither shield nor spear. Certainly a picture of a church fallen into a deep sleep of lust.
Warning: If we as church do not even see the enemy (antichrist) preparing to attack us, and if we do not hear the enemy smiths pounding out the iron chariots, we too are asleep. Let the ministry warn us about the chariots the enemy is making and let us arm ourselves (Eph. 6).
b. Chapter 4:17 contains a hint of fraternization with the enemy.
c. Chapter 5:16, 17 tells us of at least four tribes, who when time came to do battle, refused. Too busy with their private concerns to be interested in the cause of the Lord.
d. A situation finally develops in which Jabin, with nine hundred chariots comes upon Israel, drives them out of the villages, takes their highways and impoverishes them completely.
e. No deliverer. There was no MAN in Israel. There was a Barak yet (as there always is a remnant) but he dared not take the initiative nor obey (chapter 4:6). The very fact that a woman had to go out indicates how deeply the nation lay in shame and helplessness.
Questions: 1. Can you mention some things which engage the attention of the church today so that she loses sight of her real calling? 2. What enemies do you see in the offing which can become real threats to the church? 3. How must we as young people conduct ourselves in view of these things?
The Helpless Delivered
Note: It is necessary to read Judges 4:14-24 and the song of Deborah (chapter 5) out of which our present outline is taken. The thing which at once arrests our attention is that while Israel lies in her helplessness it is the Lord Who goes out before Deborah, Barak and all the people and delivers them (4:14; 5:4). In the matter of salvation no flesh shall boast, at least not church flesh.
1. Israel cries unto the Lord. Confronted with nine hundred chariots of iron and an Israel paralyzed by fear and lust.
Observe: It is Israel that cries, but no doubt the elect remnant on the foreground. Really, I believe it is Christ in them, crying for vengeance (5:2) and victory. Christ suffers already in this people from whom He will be born. He cries from out of the loins of a church, almost swallowed up. That cry God hears. For His sake and the Covenant’s sake God lets Himself be pleaded to.
Discussion: Did the Lord simply overlook their sinfulness now to deliver them nevertheless? Moses used to plead for the sinful people…how now?
2. God raises them up a Deborah who with Barak goes out to battle. Barak had originally been instructed as to what to do (4:6, 7), but he lacked the courage. Deborah calls him to his task, but also goes with him.
Note: God does not FIND servants or FRIENDS. God makes them. a. God bids Barak go to Mt. Tabor. God draws the enemies after Barak. Then the Lord falls upon the enemies and destroys them. “They fought from heaven” we read, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The mighty River swept them away. Barak pursued what was left. The last of the enemies’ might Jael pins to the tent floor with a pin. And thus all the enemy is destroyed. The vengeance of Christ already appears. The Day of Salvation and the Day of Vengeance are ONE. b. The victory is entirely of the Lord. But in this victory Zebulon and Naphtali gained renown. They, of all the tribes were faithful. Certainly when the Lord stirs up the people a remnant appears. c. Vs. 31. The shout of victory. A prayer for destruction of all the enemies. The voice of the Christ, the Conquering Hero of the Covenant.
Questions: Have you any idea why Deborah’s Song in vs. 30 pictures the enemies as imagining that they had conquered, while really they had been most completely destroyed? HINT: Does not this help to bring out that according to human reckoning Israel could never win against so formidable an enemy as Jabin?
Do you find any connection between the songs of Hannah, Deborah and Mary? Is not the Spirit of Christ already singing in these three mothers of the Old Testament?
Strange Answer to Israel’s Cry
Hebrews 11:3 describes the church as sometimes having to hide in the caves and the dens of the earth. In our present outline we find Israel also hiding there. Pitiful sight! The more pitiful because she cannot array herself with the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. THEY are in the dens of the earth because they have been faithful to the Testimony of Christ, but Israel is at present in the caves of the mountains because she has forsaken the Testimony of Christ, and she hides now before the wrath of Him Who punishes apostates.
The Church underground. To this underground church God sends a prophet.
1. Another nation flies upon Israel (vs. 1-6). This time the Midianites (a nation sprung from Abraham—by Keturah—where lived a Jethro once…who at Baalim’s time lured Israel into fornication and upon whom Moses once took vengeance because of the War of the Lord).
a. Israel sinned again. She evidently engaged in sensual rioting, Midian being to Israel what Hollywood is to modern men.
Discuss: Had Israel forgotten that every previous apostasy brought quick judgment? Did Israel think she could play with fire and not get burned? Or don’t sinners think at all?
b. The Lord gives Israel into the hands of Midian, and her confederates, Amelek and the Arabians.
Suggestion: Israel lived as a sheep among the wolves, safe, however, as long as she trusted in and obeyed the Lord…helpless as soon as she turned from the Lord. The question is sometimes asked: why did the nations repeatedly attack Israel? Whatever political and economical and financial reason there might be for this, behind it all lies the Enmity of the cross. The nations are so many flesh-and-blood manifestations of the Dragon that seeks to devour the Woman (Rev. 12) and devour the Child that is to be born.
Question: Why is it that Israel does not look at the nations as variations of the Dragon? Why do many so-called Christians also today look at life as a circus instead of a battlefield?
c. The Midianites plunder Israel most completely. They allow Israel to sow, then storm upon their fields with their cattle and herds and destroy the increase. Instead of the fun and the abundance they expected as obtainable through their idolatry, they stand face to face with starvation. How blind we become when we fall into lust.
2. Israel congregates and cries unto the Lord (6:7-10).
Note: Some new thing occurs: Instead of sending them a Judge, God sends them a prophet. And this prophet instead of announcing deliverance reminds them that the Lord has delivered them so often, and admonished them, but they ever disobey. Period. No word of deliverance, no hope of escape in this sermon.
Significance: 1. Israel must know that heaven has grown weary of that awful cycle. God’s “patience” is nearly gone. 2. Shall God deliver them…so they can turn to some new sin again? 3. They are not worth delivering; the only fruit will be more disobedience.
Question: We seldom read of Prophets during this time, why must there be one now? Can we speak of “patience with God,” if so, how? Can it come to an end?