Snapshots: Day 30

Snapshots: Day 30

The Snapshot: “seven years of famine began.” Living in a Fallen World is often confusing. Israel has lost his favourite son, and now famine threatens to wipe them out. It feels a hard world – but that is without understanding what God is doing. The ‘dead son’ will be raised to life and be their savior, but that is still the future. Sometimes the sun shines brightest before the storm that brings life to the desert. When Jesus entered Jerusalem they shouted, “Hosanna!”, Lord save us. A week later, others cried out, “Crucify him.” It was a confusing time, a terrible time, and it seems no one could see the glory of the future behind the black thunder clouds.  But God has a plan so rest in that truth, and it’s always a plan for good, our good. How incredible.

Further Consideration: Whether we like it or not – and I know some people who think it is a cop out – the world we live in is broken, dysfunctional or as we usually put it – fallen. It is not as it was when God first made it. When sin came in, God stepped back and said the equivalent of, “OK, you want to run it you way, I’ll let you do that.” The result was that sin prevailed, and the world went wrong. Sickness accompanied sin, and that included sickness in the plant life and in nature at large, which included the weather and the way the planet works generally.

Thus sometimes there were (and are) famines because rain doesn’t fall, seeds don’t germinate and so on. If we blame God for famines, we must blame Him for giving us free will, not that He made us do wrong, but allowed us the opportunity, and everything else followed. So that’s the world we live in – where it goes wrong – but the amazing thing is that God didn’t step right of the equation, He is still there when we turn to Him and He is available to help. That doesn’t mean He will immediately jump in and do what we want and reverse the working of the fallen world, but it does mean that there are times when He sees that that is possible without upsetting the balance of our free will.

But sometimes He holds back because He sees that allowing the brokenness to continue means He can use it for a greater purpose. Now when it comes to the seven years of famine above, God has seen (and told Abram about it) that this can be just one link in a chain that results in Israel ending up in Egypt. There, because they do not leave when they could early in the day, they settle, end up slaves and need that most incredible event, the Exodus, which brings judgment on sin, reveals the power of the Lord and the uniqueness of Israel. This famine is just one link in that chain, but Jacob didn’t see that yet, and so often we don’t see the fact of present difficulties being a link that will lead to something amazing. Patience and grace needed.


55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole are of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.

20. Redeeming Israel – Jesus

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 20. Redeeming Israel – Jesus

Gal 4:4,5 when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Mt 1:21 you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 A Waiting People: We move on a little over four hundred years in the life of Israel and, as I have pondered many times before, it is quite possible that many in Israel had given up any expectation that God would come and speak as in the centuries before through prophets. One Christian scholar has suggested that there were then, at least six characteristics of the world that had come about, in what we tend to call the Middle East, that made that time one of the best times, if not the best time, to enable the Gospel to be carried around the world. Was this what was behind Paul’s “when the set time had fully come”?

Voices to the Nation: And then came John the Baptist and crowds flocked to him to hear an ‘in your face’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  (Mt 3:2) Then, a little while later, Jesus came with the same message but accompanied it with amazing healings and miracles. It was indeed a new day. Some, when they saw his miracles, aware that their prophetic history spoke of a coming Messiah, a deliverer, wanted to make him their king (see Jn 6:15), and when he entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, that must have surely been in the minds of many. Of course as our Matthew verse above shows, Joseph had been told that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” but perhaps only the “save his people” bit stayed in people’s memories. And yet it had been a word from God.

Redeeming Israel? How would Jesus save his people from their sins? By dying on the Cross for them. No more and no less. The same way as any other people. The Cross is there for every sinner, whatever background, whatever nationality, whatever colour. Because there is often so much romanticism attached to Israel today, we need to emphasize this. Don’t confuse individual salvation with the fact of God using Israel, as a people, as a light to the nations – and we’ll see more of this later. If there is one thing these latter studies have shown is that Israel were not and are not a demonstration of a wonderful, righteous and holy people; in fact, exactly the opposite. But this is not meant to be character assassination of Israel for I have said more than once, that they simply demonstrate what the whole world is like – sinners in need of a redeemer.

People or a Nation? This distinction between individuals and a people becomes even more clear in their response to Jesus and, subsequently, to the Christian faith. All Jesus’ initial followers were Jews. The vast majority of the early church were Jews, and yet when you observe Paul’s travels, it was the Jews who persecuted him, and it was only in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, that the church fully relocated, and Israel ceased to be the central hub for the new faith and the Gentile emphasis came to the fore. History tells the story: individuals, Jews and Gentiles around the world, accepted the new faith but ‘as a people’ there was still what the apostle Paul called a blindness over his people, ‘as a people’ (Rom 11:25)

But yet more: Judaism failed to accept their Messiah and the consequence is graphically told in John’s prophetic picture in Revelation 12:5,6 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” The woman can be none other than the nation of Israel and the child is obviously Jesus. Note what happens to the nation – it flees into the wilderness, into the world, to a role or place designed for them by God. But note how long – 1260 days or three and a half years. Seven is the number of perfection, a perfect length of time in God’s economy, and so half of that says, a period of time set by God, but which is only PART of His time for this part of His economy, i.e. there is more to come!  And thus for nearly two thousand years, ‘Israel’ were ‘hidden’ by God in the world. Near the end of that time designed by God, the enemy sought to thwart the purposes of God through what we now call the Holocaust and millions of Jews died, but that very action provoked a rising up to give Israel their land again, and in the middle of the twentieth century ‘Israel’ became visible again.

Observe the elect: And here we move into prophetic mystery again. Let’s recap some of the things the apostle Paul taught in Romans. Are they rejected by God because of failing to receive their Messiah? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:1-5) i.e. the nation may have rejected Jesus but there are many individual believers, part of ‘the elect’.

Observe the Hardening: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:25-27) i.e. although they hardened themselves against Jesus and his ministry, nevertheless it was through them that he came, and he came to save them from their sins, as we saw above, as individually, one by one, they believe. Many have not of course, but is that the end of Israel? Clearly not.

All Saved? In the verses above we have this phrase: “in this way all Israel will be saved” and many who I have referred to as having romanticized views of all this, see this as meaning that every single Jew in existence will be saved. Now think about this rationally and you see that this cannot possibly be, unless God moves in sovereign reviving power and makes every Jews believe by the power of His incredible presence being made manifest in their midst at some time – which could be. There IS a special place for them on God’s heart as Paul said: they are loved on account of the patriarchs,” i.e. Abram etc. were chosen by God to reveal Him to the world. Nothing has changed in that respect. In their struggles with their embryonic faith, learning to believe, they earned the Lord’s special love. It is that love that allows them to continue as a visible people, but unless God does move in that sovereign revival power (and past ‘revivals’ where that has been seen, never meant that every single person in an area became a believer) then there will always be (as revelation shows later in the book) some who will reject Jesus, and thus to talk about them receiving salvation would be a mockery.

How can we resolve this conundrum? May I suggest the following: the Lord’s redeeming work that we have been observing through all these studies, never forces people to believe but it does mean that He is working there all the time to encourage good response, even sometimes using disciplinary judgments. Allowing – and indeed enabling – Israel to continue to exist as a nation, simply means that in His love, grace and mercy, the Lord allows this ‘God-society’ to exist so that His name at least is constantly there in the background, acting as a catalyst-reminder to all people in that community that they are potentially at least, the genuine ‘people of God’.

The value of the ‘God-Society’: This brings us back to why Israel were preserved after the Exile. As we considered briefly above, it was into this society that John the Baptist came and then Jesus came and ministered. I have called it a ‘God-society’ because everything about their history and then present culture had a God element about it. They were what they were because they had history with God. They were a people in the midst of which existed a Temple where God was supposed to reside. They still had the Law of Moses which showed them what they were to do with that Temple, and that also involved a number of special periods of celebrating and it was all God-directional, i.e. pointing towards Him. Now we have seen how that became institutional or unreal, a mere formality without reality so much of the time, yet there were times and there were individuals where the light did shine out to the rest of the world. The existence of this ‘God-society’ then and today, keeps the thought of God in the forefront and by that means, the Lord can draw people to Himself. Paul seems to suggest that there will yet come a time where the reality that we have been talking about will grow in many, by a combination of world events and the working of the Holy Spirit, and salvation will come to many more Jews than ever seen before. God’s plan of redemption for Israel has not finished.

19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile

2 Chron 36:15-17   The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians

Recap: We have considered the redemption of Israel through the Exodus and then God’s ongoing redemptive activity getting them to Sinai and then into the Promised Land, His activity seeing them through their early years as recorded in Judges and then Solomon’s failure that resulted in the nation being divided into two. The next big milestone in Israel’s history that we now come to is the Exile.  When we did a study on Manasseh, we also considered the last six kings of Judah (Israel having gone long before) and perhaps we need to recap those kings here:

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent.

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27).

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim is left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil, was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11-year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king who only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11-year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

And So? Now what this short summary does is show us the terrible state of the leadership of this special nation, a nation called to be God’s special possession and a light to the rest of the world. Moreover, where the leadership of a nation goes, the nation tends to follow, and the prophetic words from both Jeremiah and Ezekiel confirm that this was so. It was like the spiritual tide of Israel had gone out – and was staying out! Now, at the risk of being tedious, can I remind you what this series is all about: it is about our God who, confronted by our continual failures, perseveres and works to bring us through to a good place. Our problem with the Bible tends to be twofold. First it is so big we tend to be ignorant of big bits of it (ask any church group to recount the main points of Israel’s history as seen in the Old Testament and see how much we don’t know). Second, some bits of it that we do focus on (having missed the ‘hard’ bits), become so familiar that we give little thought to them. It is for this reason that I emphasise our purpose here.

The Exile? If some of the bad sides of some of the people we considered shocked us, and if the continual history of grumbling and turning away from the Lord in Israel’s history have depressed us, that should all pale into insignificance in comparison to what take place in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, the carrying away of virtually all the people to Babylon. Samaria being destroyed, and the northern kingdom being taken off was one thing, but the destruction of Jerusalem AND the Temple is something else! It is clearly the end of Israel! – or it would be if Jeremiah hadn’t already prophesied that God would bring the nation back and restore them after seventy years!   Now seventy years is a long time, an average person’s lifetime. It turns out that that seventy years would be measured from the destruction of the Temple to the completion of the rebuilding of the new Temple. God’s house. God’s presence is the measuring stick. The means of the people being returned – pagan king Cyrus being told by God to let them go – is incredible. Up until that point, if you were a survivor, you might have been sitting there in misery in Babylon wondering how anything could possibly change your circumstances. And then suddenly a royal proclamation comes from the palace to your people – get yourselves ready, you’re to go home, yes back to Canaan!!!!!

Incredible! The story is so enormous, so incredible and takes up so many pages of prophecy and history in your Bible that I am not attempting to quote any of it. Read Jeremiah, read Ezekiel, for the historical references within prophecies, read the end of 2 Chronicles for the way it is summed up, read Ezra and Nehemiah to see how the return was worked out. It is all there, pages and pages of it. In many ways it is more low-key than the Exodus but in other ways far more dramatic in the sense of the many warnings that came through the prophets, the devastating events that brought an end to Jerusalem, the years of silence that must have followed, and then the edict of a pagan king to start all over again. It is staggering, it is incredible, it is amazing. If you’ve never caught it before, catch it now. This is God changing history just by gently speaking into the heart of a pagan king. Mind blowing! This is redemption!

The Lessons? The lessons in all this are very obvious but that doesn’t make them less significant. First, see the persistence of God who through His prophets tries to hedge off this catastrophe. The sheer number, content and completeness of the many prophecies that came through Jeremiah and Ezekiel has always amazed me. Again and again the words kept coming to each of these last kings, trying to bring them to their senses. Yes, the first thing has to be the love and persistence of God that sought to prevent it all happening. Second, there has to be the folly of mankind for, let’s be honest, Israel were no greater or no worse than the rest of the world; they just came as a demonstration example under the microscope to show us folly at its best (or worst), even in the face of God’s continual love, with God talking to them all the time.  Third, there has to be seen the wisdom of God seen through what takes place. Yes, it is horrific when Jerusalem is besieged, people die, and others are taken off into captivity, but at the end of it, lo and behold, here are a holy people, a purified people who are seeking God, seeking to ensure their lives are right with God and who are free of idol worship. Jerusalem, the land, Israel, are all in a new place with God.

And to come? Yes, there is going to be silence from heaven for a number of centuries while God waits for human history to change to be ready for His Son to come and the good news to be spread around the world, but in the meantime, Israel are still there, ready to be the environment for all of those amazing events we find in the New Testament, and it will be to those we will turn in the next study, as we pursue God’s redemption of Israel.

18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

1 Kings 11:11-13 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well.  And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.

Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.

The Players (1): So, let’s note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second, there is Solomon, a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.

The Players (2): The third ‘player’ in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin, another thorn in Solomon’s side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth, a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel’s failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.

But why?  The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good’ king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.

Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord’s reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second, a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away!  Third, it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth, the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth, it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God’s purposes for the earth. Sixth, it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God’s people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary.  Seventh, it is a sign of God’s grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!

In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God’s people and revert to idol worship. As we’ve already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God’s people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.

17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Jud 2:15,16 They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders

 Redemption and Israel: The thrust of these studies, I hope you will have seen, is that redemption is not only about the initial event but also the Lord’s ongoing activity to ensure we run the full course. Nowhere is that clearer in the Bible than in the story of Israel. It is not a mere account of a special nation, it is a story of redemption – ongoing redemption, redemption at the hands of a God who is determined to help His faithful people survive, and therein was the problem – so often, so many of them were not faithful and in that they simply reflect the human race as a whole.

The Ongoing Story: Yesterday we finished in Judges 2. Let’s examine verses 10-14: and there we see time moving on:

  • After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, (v.10a) i.e. times moves on
  • another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (v.10b) i.e. a sign of poor teaching, not passing on the faith
  • Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” (v.11) General statement
  • They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (v.12a) Detail of their folly
  • They aroused the Lord’s anger,” (v.12b) – the effect, “because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (v.13) contrary to all Moses’ teaching.
  • In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.” (v.14) God’s form of disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses by lifting off His hand of protection so they were attacked by pagan neighbours.

The Cycle: Then comes what we see happening again and again in Judges: They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders (v.15,16) Whenever the people came to their senses, the Lord sent deliverers. The summary verses that follow spell it out so clearly:

  • “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.” (v.17)
  • Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.(18)
  • But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v.19)

Overview of Judges: The book of Judges is essentially a record of how this happened again and again and each of the named judges was someone raised up by the Lord to deliver Israel when they cried out under the present disciplining following their yet again turning away from the Lord:

  • Othniel (3:7-11)
  • Ehud (3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (v.31 – no mention of the cycle).
  • Deborah & Barak (4:1-24 – a longer story + a song of triumph to follow)
  • Gideon (6:1 – 8:35 – note the stories get longer)
  • (a period of internal strife – Ch.9)
  • Jephthah (10:6 – 12:7)
  • Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8-15 three judges in uneventful time)
  • Samson (13:1-16:31)
  • Unsettled times (ch.17-21)

Key Points: Again and again throughout these accounts we see the cycle rolls out starting with, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  For the expression ‘did evil’ see 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1 i.e. seven times this condemnation comes. Again and again, to bring discipline on Israel, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and allowed the neighbours to attack Israel: Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites (3:12,13), Canaan (4:2), Midian (6:1), Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7), Philistines (13:1). The deliverers the Lord used we have listed above. What should also be noted of these deliverers is that they were not always the godliest of people, indeed far from it sometimes. The truth is that the Lord used whoever (presumably) He saw would respond and become a deliverer.

With some, the motivation was clearly to deliver Israel and yet that motivation was not always clear, for Gideon was certainly a reluctant deliverer and Samson was a carnal deliverer concerned more for his own pleasure, so deliverance was almost an accident! Yet clearly the Lord knew all these shortcomings but also knew the individual in question could achieve the deliverance that was required.

The closing chapters of the book show what a confusing and unsettled time this was in this embryonic nation. Although these judges were mostly warriors of some kind or another, with one exception (a woman) there was virtually no prophetic input at this time which suggests, what we have been considering so far, that their state of almost universal rebellion prevented such a thing, yet Deborah shows that it was not impossible.

Reflections on Redemption: We have observed in the previous studies how the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, how He persevered with them through their desert travels to Sinai, how He dealt with them at Sinai, how He persevered with them on their travels to the border of the Promised Land and how He dealt with them when they refused to enter that land. It was one long struggle to keep Israel on the right track and involved a number of disciplinary judgments along the way. We may wonder why the Lord tolerated this and didn’t wipe them out. I suggest, because the story, which has continued on so clearly in Judges, shows two things:  a) the sinfulness of mankind even when God is there to help, and revealing a need of a redeemer, and b) the incredible grace of God which persevere and perseveres, in the face of that ongoing sinfulness, to work to discipline, correct but preserve the nation.  But it doesn’t end there, the rest of the Old Testament follows with a similar picture which we’ll see in the next two studies.

Lessons for Us?  I find the book of Judges tends to have a depressing effect upon me because it is such a catalogue of failures, if not by the nation, by individuals. And yet, there must be this massive lesson that screams out from it: if Israel could go through this long period of continual failure despite all the Lord’s efforts to get them back on track and then deliver them, and He keeps on with them and doesn’t reject them, there is hope for you and me when we get it wrong. This must be the message that keeps coming through. God is there to redeem us – and go on redeeming us! Our failures will not put Him off. Having saved you, you can be assured that He will be there on your case, constantly working to deliver you. Rejoice in that – and purposefully join in with it!

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.