Again, it’s been a while – one of my goals going in to 2012 involves improving my discipline, and one of the areas of that is getting back into my writing more heavily.
Reading Judges chapter 4, I didn’t even get into the bulk of the story before God started speaking to me. I just want to draw in on the first three verses.
After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried out to the LORD for help. ~ Judges 4:1-3
I remember noting something several times going through the Pentateuch books – God’s patience. It frustrated me during that period just how many times I’d read that the Israelites would again start grumbling, and again start saying that they wanted to go back to Egypt, and again God would have to do something to show that he still loved them and that they were still on the right track. Now, even after they’ve reached the promised land, the cycle’s not much different. Here we have Israel again doing evil in the eyes of God.
So what happens? They are sold into the hands of Jabin, and under the oppression of Sisera for twenty years until they cry out to God for help.
Now in typical sermon fashion, there’s three things I want to draw out of this passage.
1. The Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD.
You know what amazes me? How often I end up kicking myself, because once again I’ve screwed up. Sometimes it’s a daily event, other times I’m either too blind or too proud to recognize that I’ve done something wrong in the between times. The thing is, though, it happens to us over and over and over again. We can’t be perfect, and we should know that.
It’s a lesson I still can’t get to sink into my heart, that I can’t earn God’s love.
I was listening to one of my best friends share something just recently, where they talked about trying to earn their own biological father’s love, and how God spoke to them and said they didn’t need to try and earn his love, that he already gave it to them unconditionally.
And he does it to you too. God’s not sitting up in heaven keeping a tally of whether we deserve his love or not, because nothing we can do is ever going to earn that love from him – we’re always going to make mistakes, we’re always going to do things wrong. All we can do is then accept God’s love, his grace and forgiveness, and put into practice the lessons that he’s teaching us when we do go wrong.
Which brings me to my second point:
2. God sold them into the hands of Jabin and they were oppressed for 20 years.
You know what I’ve learned throughout my life? That sometimes when I make a mistake, or take a wrong turn, or do something wrong – I have to backpedal.
Here’s what, for some people, might be a reality check. God’s grace is immediate – when we’re on the wrong path and we turn back to him, he’s right there with open arms, telling us to come to him.
However that doesn’t mean that we’re immediately back on the right path. Usually it takes time to remedy the mistakes we’ve made, or it takes time to get back onto the right path, because we have to backtrack (or sometimes just bush-bash) our way from where we’ve found ourselves, back to where we actually should be.
3. They cried out to God.
This, in a way, kind of relates back to the last point as well.
It took them twenty years to cry out to God.
How often, when things are going wrong for us, do we try and just deal with it? I know that I’m really good at this. In my past, I relied over and over on my own strength to battle through some of the hardest times of my life, and for years, I believed that through my own abilities, I was able to survive. I didn’t flourish, but I survived. The thing is, that if I’d cried out to God – and even today, if I’d cry out to God in the first instance, he’s going to come running straight away. Like I said, he’s standing there, arms open, waiting for me to come to him.
We don’t have to wait twenty years to call on God! We don’t have to wait until we’ve exhausted all the other options that we think are around us. Call on him today, not in a week’s time!
As I go in to 2012, this is the first challenge that God’s been putting on my life. To let go of my reliance on myself and trust in him. To not call on him after I’ve exhausted all my other options, but to go to him first and let him take care of things.
This is a really difficult challenge, and on a personal note, I’d appreciate all of your prayers as 2012 goes ahead. I’ve been straight with God, and I’ll be straight with you – I’m terrified to let go of that self-reliance.
As you step into 2012, how are you with self-reliance? Are you ready to let go of dealing with things yourself? Or will you be taking the page from the Israelites, and waiting twenty years before crying out?
And so it begins. Judges started out with a little transitional section between Joshua and Judges, and then we get into the tales of what each of them did.
Chapter three, though, begins with a few verses that I find really interesting.
These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience). ~ Judges 3:1-2
So why’s that interesting?
I don’t think anyone would deny that we endure trials and tests throughout our lives. It’s just part of going through it, but the thing that stuck out to me here was verse two – that there was a purpose behind the test.
I’d imagine that almost all of us have uttered the words, “Why me?” At some stage in our lives when dealing with a struggle that just didn’t seem to be fair. I can absolutely assure you that I’ve wondered that more times than I care to count.
I can’t help feeling, though, that one thing we can take from these two verses alone, is that there’s always something to learn. The Israelites had other nations and other kings to deal with for a reason, so that they’d learn and remember the requirements for warfare.
The thing is that they always had God on their side, but they still needed to be able to go into battle. God doesn’t baby us, he doesn’t sit there and wrap us in cotton wool so that we can never scratch ourselves. He doesn’t do everything for us. He won’t make us face something we can’t handle without his strength, definitely, but he will let us take a wander into a challenge that might look a bit daunting to us from the outside, because he knows that we can do it.
Why? Because how else do we grow? How else do we live? How else do we have a genuine relationship with him?
God is our father; our dad. He’s there to have a relationship with us. He wants to watch us grow up, he wants to watch us learn, experience, grow and develop.
Have you ever thought of God that way? We use the statements of God being a father all the time, but have you ever really stopped and thought about him as your dad?
Picture yourself as a child riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. You might fall and scratch yourself – God’s there as your dad, picking you up, kissing the wounded knee or elbow better, and then encouraging you to try again. Then when you actually succeed, he’s the one standing there, smiling proudly at you. He’s got his arms open as you get off the bike and run to him, proudly declaring, “I did it, Dad! I did it!”
But before then, you might fall off that bike a dozen times. And each time, he’s there, picking you up, helping you out, and encouraging you to try again.
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their Gods. ~ Judges 3:5-6
The Israelites fell off the bike – and more than once. In the rest of Chapter 3, we get told the stories of Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar – three judges who God chose to rescue the Israelites after they fell into sin. God didn’t abandon them, he didn’t turn his back when they fell and scraped their knee, he gave them someone to help them get back on the bike, and encouraged them, “It’s okay. Try again.”