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?
So, the Israelites are now gaining a bit of a reputation as they make their way deeper into the promised land. First Jericho, then Ai. Word’s spreading throughout the landscape, to the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Man I love the names of the biblical nations, and I really actually want to learn more about who they all were. I’m not sure how possible it would be, but one day I’ll get into studying all of that.
Anyway, though, all these people are hearing the word spread that the Israelites are on the warpath, and basically taking out everyone who stands in their way.
So all the other ‘…ites,’ they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel. ~ Joshua 9:2
But one group had a better idea – the Gibeonites. They decide to come up to Joshua and pretend to be from a long way off, somewhere in the distance, asking for a treaty. They pack their bags with stale, mouldy bread and old wineskins, they dress up in tattered, patched clothes and shoes, and come wandering up asking for peace.
The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. ~ Joshua 9:14
You know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life – and many of them, I’m sure, could have been avoided if I’d spent some time inquiring of God as to what I should do with a certain situation. Many of them, well, I didn’t even need to inquire of him, all I really needed to do was listen to things he’s made very clear throughout his word, and I would have made some very different decisions.
I don’t regret any of it. As I heard Mike Tyson say in an interview on 60 minutes – he was asked if he could go back and change one thing, what would it be – and his response was that if he changed anything, then he wouldn’t be who he is today.
What happened when the Israelites realised that their distant neighbours, with whom they’d just made a peace treaty, were actually just around the corner?
But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. ~ Joshua 9:18
I think it’s a lesson that we need to learn in life, that when we make mistakes, there are going to be consequences, and those consequences are probably not going to be of God’s design for our lives. The thing is, though, that there’s an element of “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” that comes to the forefront here. The Israelites had made an oath of peace with these people, and they were bound to keep it.
Sure, there were all kinds of excuses they could have made to get out of it, but they didn’t.
Sometimes, decisions we make without hearing the voice of God can have pretty major consequences – and sometimes there may be a way out of it. Not always. Sometimes, we just have to live with what’s happened, and let it become a part of who we are, just like the Gibeonites now became a part of the nation of Israel. They might not have been a greatly honoured part, but they were a part of the nation nonetheless. Just like the consequences of our mistakes can become a part of us.