Joshua had brought the people into the Promised Land, fought a series of wars against the inhabitants, but had not “finished the job”, leaving some groups undefeated.
These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan 2 (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience)
It seems hard to think that there were any who had not experienced war!
– Wikipedia reckons there have been 3,023 wars in human history.
– The Old Testament seems to be one war after another
– There were all the wars Joshua had led them in as they conquered the Promised Land.
Here, we learn that it was the Lord himself who had left these nations and for a reason.
the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. 4 They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.
So, how did they go? Did the Israelites obey the Lord’s commands? Did they pass the test? The next couple of verses tell us:
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel…
As observers we read this piece of history and could smugly say that the Israelites failed the test and deserved what they got.
But we aren’t observers. We are participants. We are God’s people. We have committed ourselves to serve our Heavenly Father under our Lord and King, Jesus. We are not merely onlookers to these events.
It mattered to God that the Israelites should be faithful to him and his anger burned against them when they were not.
It matters to God that we should be consistent and faithful and obedient to him, too. And just as God left those nations to test the Israelites, so it should come as no surprise when we find ourselves confronted with temptation.
In John 16:33 we read of Jesus telling us, “In this world you will have trouble.”
Jesus warned us trouble and trials would come. Are there any of us who think Jesus was wrong, any who have not had troubles?
What God’s people must do is confront whatever surrounds them and tempts them to infidelity to God, which is to say, to sin. We are to resist, not yield.
In the case of these Israelites they would need to learn to battle against these forces; to learn war.
Having failed God, he sent oppressors so they would feel his wrath in real terms., they called to God for help, then he sent a judge to rescue them. Then they failed again, they were oppressed and called for help and he sent another judge to rescue them. Then they failed again, they were oppressed again so he sent another judge to rescue them. That’s the repeating story right through the book of Judges.
Are we more consistently faithful to God than they were?
The story of the book of Judges is illustrated in this chapter, chapter 3. It went like this.
7The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.
But the peace only lasted forty years and then…
12 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. 13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. 14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.
15 Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab.
For generations left-handedness has been something to be discouraged and left-handed people have been made to learn to use their right hand instead. Were any of you born left-handed but forced to use your right hand? It seems likely that quite a few of Ehud’s tribe, the Benjamites, were left-handed. In Chapter 20 of Judges we read of 700 of them chosen because they were left-handed and could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
Now, a right-handed person would wear their sword on the left hip to as to be able to draw it quickly. But Ehud wore the special dagger he had made on his right hip. The guards, and the king of Moab, Eglon, would not have expected to find he had a sword on his right hip. Perhaps this fooled the security pat down! In any case, he was brought in to see the dominating king.
He craftily managed to arrange a private audience, telling Eglon he had a message for him from God. You know we have a message from God, too, and it’s for each of the people we meet. If we were game enough to say to someone, “I have a message for you from God” perhaps putting it in those words might get us the ear of more people. Our message, of course, is the gospel about Jesus Christ.
Well, Eglon wanted to hear what was this message from God. In this account the story then gets gory, made worse by the fact that Eglon was a very, very fat man:
20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.
26 While they waited, Ehud got away
When he had got away far enough he rallied the rest of Israel and together they overthrew the Moabites and they had peace for 80 years.
We don’t know what went wrong next but wrong it went. The 80 years of peace ended with the people sinning again, being over-run again and being saved by a judge again. We read it in two short sentences:
31 After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.
When we look at this series of events there are some questions that arise.
For example, why did they put up with the rule of Cushan-Rishathaim for 8 years before crying out to the Lord for help? When they did cry out help came in the form of Othniel.
Why did they put up with the dominance of Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years before asking God for help? When they did, Ehud was provided.
Why do we put up with the oppression of sins that continue to rule our lives for years and not ask for rescue?
And if we did call for help who will be our rescuing judge?
Our judge is Jesus. He hears us and responds.
Our Judge Jesus is our Saviour. When we call on God for rescue. When we find ourselves under attack or under oppression. When we are confronted with a temptation to be faithless or disobedient to God. Don’t wait 18 years. Don’t wait 8 years. Don’t wait at all! Call on Jesus in prayer now!
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Which raises another question: “if God provides a way of escape from temptations, why don’t we look for and take that way of escape?” Or are we too comfortable doing what we shouldn’t that we don’t want to escape it? Is the habit too dear to us? Are we just too lazy to make the effort? What stops us could be pride, or rebelliousness, stubbornness, forgetfulness, laziness, independence, shame, anger – none of which are commendable!
And what do we do when we do give in and the enemy is oppressing us yet again? Call on our judge Jesus. One thing he will certainly do is forgive us for that failure. That is why he died – to take the blame for our failure, forgive us, cleanse us and give us peace once again.
How did Othniel manage to overcome? We read that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him”.
What about us? As followers of Jesus the Spirit of the Lord has come upon us – he lives in and with us. We are at least as well equipped as Othniel to confront the enemy and withstand. Do we call on the help of Christ’s Spirit day-by-day, even moment-by-moment as we confront life in the world we live in? I suspect we don’t give much thought to spiritual things and try to go it alone. We ignore the reality that we have been given the Holy Spirit to enable us to love and live for Jesus. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore so mighty a helper who is ever-present with us, but we do it.
The Lord left a number of nations in the Promised Land and when the people forgot their God they were reminded of his Lordship over them as they were oppressed by one of these nations.
It does not take much thought to come up with our own equivalents to these nations.
For many Christians around the world they are quite literally surrounded by godless nations that oppress, even kill them. In atheistic countries like North Korea and China, in Muslim countries, in parts of India, Africa and elsewhere, Christians have their houses burned down, their church buildings destroyed and they are beaten, imprisoned or even killed for their faith.
Compared to them we have it so easy. But there are other forces around us we need to confront.
We have so many opportunities to enjoy materialism. We have so many options with which to fill our time. We have so many enjoyable ways to sin – so many of them so subtle we believe that surely they aren’t so serious, really. Our individualised list of problems and temptations has been personalised for us by Satan to suit each of us and he prowls like a lion waiting to see which of us he can catch next, whispering lies into our minds.
We are increasingly surrounded in our society by people smugly pleased with themselves that they are grown-ups now who do not need God. They are ever-ready to mock, criticise, find fault and even take action through legislation and litigation to prevent us living according to God’s word. They see us Christians as deluded but like the Pharisees of whom Jesus spoke: they are the blind seeking to lead the blind. By contrast it is us who can say, “once I was blind but now I can see.”
There are things the LORD left to test us. We are in the world but not of it. He assured us that problems would come. He did this only to teach warfare to us.
The Israelites had real physical wars to fight but essentially their battle was a spiritual one as God gave them opportunity after opportunity to maintain their spiritual lives in obedience to the one true God. For us in Shoalhaven Heads we are shielded from physical harm from around us. More clearly, our warfare is spiritual, as we read in Ephesians chapter 6.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
I am sure most of us have read and heard about what comes next in this letter; what this “full armour of God” is that he has provided us with as we confront these forces around us that seek to distract and overpower us.
Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, has given us truth to hold us firm and in place against the alternatives, the temptations and beliefs, all of which are lies attracting us to unfaithfulness, just as the Israelites were drawn away by their neighbours.
We can stand firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection and, when necessary, step out confidently with this wonderful message.
The gift of faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, as we hold it up against the challenges shot at us by Satan, shields us and renders those temptations harmless.
We have been saved, brought from death to eternal life, our minds being renewed daily as we read the Bible. That book not only protects our thinking but also changes it. And we can use it to kill off all the falsehoods that come our way.
The Israelites waited under years of bondage before crying for help. We can pray at any time, bringing to Jesus all sorts of prayers and requests. Indeed we should pray at all times. Paul wrote we should pray without ceasing! As we learn to pray in the Holy Spirit praying without ceasing becomes not only possible but becomes a lifestyle. And as we practice it we are kept alert to Satan’s attacks but also, and better still, we become alert to what God is doing in and around us.
Paul invited his readers to follow his example. I wish I lived my life in such a way that I could invite you to follow my example! What I can say is that I have tried these things out for the last 51 years, imperfectly perhaps, but they do work.
Just as there was for the Israelites there is plenty around us “left to test us to see whether we would obey the LORD’s commands”. We are going to be called to battle so…
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.