I’ve got some friends preaching through the book of Judges. I thought I’d post some of my old notes up here for a quick reference for those who want them….
Imagine that it’s Christmas time. You’ve written a pretty ambitious list for your parents, but word on the street is that this year you might actually get everything on the list plus some other really cool stuff like toe socks that you saw in the store and you’re mom was awesome enough to go back and buy later. You have also gone all out. Uncharacteristically, you collected change from the couch, did odd chores for neighbors and resold your little Debbie snack that you’re mom packed in your lunch in an effort to surprise your parents and siblings with some really awesome gifts. The best part is that a new video game just came out; you know it’s under the tree, but you have to wait for Christmas…. It’s going to be the best Christmas ever!
Then a thief breaks in your house steals all the Christmas gifts, smashes all your plates, steals your brand new game system. It suddenly just became the worst Christmas ever! Now imagine that it happens every year at Christmas, for seven years! You wouldn’t be looking forward to Christmas, you’d be dreading it.
That’s the feeling that Gideon and his people were feeling. They lived in an agrarian culture where they would plant crops. Harvest time was supposed to be the best time of the year for them…but it wasn’t! An invading army from Midian would slip in and take everything! Even the stuff they couldn’t eat was given to their animals for food or bedding. It had been going on for seven long years.
The people had adapted. They moved into caves and tried to hide the best they could. We read about Gideon here threshing wheat in a wine press… which is basically a stone hole in the ground. Everyone is in hiding and they are scared because of the people of Midian. The joy of the harvest is gone.
So the people cry out to God for help!
- Sometimes we want a MIRACLE, but we really need a MESSAGE
When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:7-10 ESV)
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is share the truth. Do you know how you catch a monkey? Some hunters in Africa hollow out a log and then create an opening big enough for a monkey to slip an open hand into. Then they place a banana in the hollowed out portion. The monkey will see the banana slip his hand in and grab the banana. But then there is a problem. The monkey cannot pull his hand out of the hole while it is wrapped around the banana. If the monkey would be free, all he has to do is let go. But monkeys don’t let go and so they get caught.
It’s the same for us, we get distracted by sin. Sin is always alluring. Like monkeys love bananas, we love our sin. Like monkeys we think it’s a free meal, but then we get caught. We forget that all sin has a consequence and we become trapped.
To set a monkey free all you have to do is convince him to open his hand and let go. That’s all he has to do and it’s not much different for you and I. We need to be reminded that the reason we’re in a mess sometimes is because we made the mess. The reason you got grounded was because of what you did. It was what was on your phone; it was what you said to your mom. You were like a monkey sticking his hand in a log for a banana and now you got caught.
So when you are in a mess all you want is to get out of the mess, you don’t see the relevance of a message. You don’t understand that the most freeing thing someone can do for you, is to help you understand the situation you’re in and how you got there!
You want to leave your circumstances and God wants you to learn from your circumstance. So instead of immediately delivering the people he first sends a prophet. He sends someone with a message, a reminder that the reason they are where they are is because they have disobeyed God.
We think that rules are restrictive, but what we don’t understand is that they actually free us. Who has more freedom the monkey who obeys the rule “don’t grab a banana from a log” or the monkey who has no rules and grabs the banana? Who has more freedom the guy who never drinks a drop of alcohol or the guy who drinks himself to bed every night? Who has more freedom, the girl who gossips about others to feel good about herself or the girl who doesn’t gossip? Who had more freedom the guy who lies about stuff to impress people, or the guy who never lies? Who has more freedom, the guy who looks at dirty pictures or the guy who flees sexual immorality and temptation? Who has more freedom?
Ask Israel! Did they have more freedom when they worshipped the one true God alone or when they turned their backs on him and worshipped these false god’s in the land? When were they the most free? They were more free worshiping God, because when we sin, we become slaves to sin. That’s how you end up with compulsive liars, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. Their slavery is just more visible than yours might be.
But we are like the monkey with the banana in the log. We get that and we still want the banana. The only way that you will ever be able to let go of the sin you wrestle with is if you can be honest about it. You see that’s the deal. We don’t want to let go. We want to eat cake and not get fat. We want to do wrong things and not get caught or not face the fall out. We regret our decisions, but we seldom ever repent.
Author and speaker Tim Keller shares about the difference between regret and repentance:
“Regret is all about ‘us’” how I am being hurt, how my life is ruined, how my heart is breaking; but repentance is all about God: how he has been grieved, how his nature as Creator and Redeemer is being trampled on, how his repeated saving actions are being trivialized and used manipulatively.”Tim Keller, Judges for You. (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Co., 2013), 69
So Israel is in awful shape. They have been running from God and now they are experiencing the consequences and even when they do call out to God. It’s more the voice of regret than it is true repentance and so God sends a prophet. They need a voice to remind them of their situation. But notice where the message stops… the message ends with “you have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:10b). So we know what they’ve done wrong, but how do they make it right? How do we go and fix things?
OK God, I’m stuck here, how do I let go? How do I find healing? How do I get out of this mess? The answer comes in the very next verse… the angel of the LORD. He is the answer. He’s the one who takes your darkest night, your biggest screw ups, and your unfortunate mistakes and turns them into something beautiful. Only God can undo the wrong that we have done and he will do it though a deliverer.
- Sometimes you Can Miss God at Work, Even by Staring Him in the Face
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?(Judges 6:12-14 ESV)
This is by far one of my favorite parts of this story. God shows up and says, “The LORD is with you!” and Gideon doesn’t even see how God could be with him? He’s too busy looking at the calamity around him that he doesn’t recognize God’s call on him. He doesn’t get that he’s telling God face to face that God is not there!
Maybe in the moments when it looks like God is not there we are actually closer to Him than we have ever been before. That was certainly the case for Gideon.
Not only is God there, but God is calling Gideon to go do something about the brokenness that he points out. Gideon doesn’t understand that this messenger is actually God in human flesh. He starts talking about how he is the least likely candidate to fix things up, but God won’t take no for an answer.
In that culture it was right to show guests a little hospitality and now Gideon feels that this man (who is actually God) is a bit of a guest so he decides to show some hospitality. Gideon tells the LORD to wait while he fixed a meal (This was a process that probably took an hour or more). So Gideon makes this meal, brings it back and sets it on a rock. God puts forward his staff and burns it up and the LORD disappears.
Gideon freaks out! I mean he freaks out! He’s saying, “I saw God! I saw God! I saw God! I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!” He knew that people don’t just see God and live to tell about it. The word on the street was that if you saw God, you would die. He’s probably rehashing his conversation, “what did I tell him? Did I say that he wasn’t with us? Was he with me and I did not even know it was him!?”
Then God appears to him again and says, “Chill out dude. I’m not going to kill you. If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.” And Gideon builds an altar to God and worships there.
This is significant because remember the whole reason that Israel is in this mess is because they are building altars and calling out to false gods. They see the Canaanites and they say things like, “Oh, I want what they have. I want to act like them. I want to be like them.” And the things they were doing were wrong, offensive, and sinful to a holy and a righteous God not to mention they came with consequences… Like the monkey and the banana.
They were crying out to God because they got caught with their hand in the log, but now this is something different. This is a return to God. This would be like someone not going to church for a long time and then saying, “Something is missing in my life when I call all the shots on my own. I need to hear from God so I’m going to church today.” This is a shift. But it’s not enough on its own.
Now listen to me, because a lot of you are here right now. You’ve come to youth group, you’ve come to church and you’re like, “this is cool or God might really have a plan for my life or I think I might want to serve him.” But the problem is that you still have your hand in a log holding onto a banana. You still have sin in your life that while you feel regret about, you never have repented from and you need to know that it is not enough to just add Jesus to the mix.
When I was in middle school I played basketball all the time. The puberty fairy visited and I was blessed with sweat glands that really went into overtime. I still remember the day that my dad sat me down and explained what deodorant was and how it helped me not to stink. This wonderful gift of Body Odor also came at a time when I started to notice that girls were pretty and I started to think that cooties weren’t real. I soon found other interesting smells like cologne and spray on deodorant (this was before body spray).
So while I knew deep down that I probably stunk after playing basketball, I also knew that I didn’t want to stink so I did the most logical thing ever I sprayed on more deodorant or heaped on cologne. So instead of just stinking like B.O., I also smelled like Old Spice or whatever was my cologne of choice. So here is the thing. While the cologne smelled nice, it didn’t really address the problem of body odor, I was still dirty. I still needed to be clean. I needed soap.
That’s what is going on with Gideon here. He’s acknowledging God, he’s worshiping God which is pleasing to God, but there is still this issue of Baal worship. It’s like having body odor and trying to mask it with cologne. There are two smells that are coming off and the rotten one taints the sweet one, not the other way around.
So the LORD gives him directions on how to repent.
- Real Repentance often Causes a Riot
That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar. (Judges 6:25-32 ESV)
For real repentance to take place, Gideon has to not only construct and altar to the LORD, but takes down the altar meant for Baal! It’s not his altar so he knows it’s going to upset a lot of people. But what he basically does here is eliminate the path back to Baal worship. He makes it harder.
He’s a little bit of a chicken so he does it at night. He tears this stuff down, makes a new altar to God and kills one of his dad’s bulls as a sacrifice. This is repentance when you destroy in a final kind of way the avenue through which you used to rebel.
I’ve known guys who had a difficult time not looking at bad pictures or videos and so they gave their phone back to their parents, they destroyed computers, they put filters and software on so other people knew what they were doing. They were serious about repentance because they were willing to do whatever it took to deal with their sin head on.
I watched an episode of biggest loser one time. I used to love that show. All the fat people start out fatter than me, but it gets depressing because midway through the show they end up skinnier than me. The people took the trainers back to their houses and the trainers went through their kitchen and put stuff in the trash. They would say things like, “This bag of sugar is pure sugar, and you can’t put that in your tea anymore if you want to get smaller. This oil is only used for frying, you’re not going to fry anything anymore get rid of it.” They were helping these people repent of bad eating and removing the easy access to bad calories.
I knew a guy who was a compulsive liar. He would lie for no reason. Jesus got a hold of his heart and so I told him to repent means you go back and you tell the truth to the people you know that you’ve lied to. Lying is no longer your god. Jesus is! He had to come clean about a lot of junk. He was so set on real repentance though that he willingly went back and outed himself for lying in several instances. He became free for the first time in his life! He was actually free!
There is no way you can do this in your own power or strength or even perfectly. Gideon was not on his own either. The LORD was with him. When folks tried to kill him for tearing down their idol God allowed Gideon’s dad to come to his defense and say, “If Baal is a real god he can defend himself.”
What do you need to repent of today? Repentance is necessary to find healing from our sins.
When my kids fall down and scrape a knee I don’t just throw a band-aide on the wound. It makes sense to cover over the bleeding, but there is a necessary step you have to take first: you have to clean the wound to prevent an infection. Once it’s clean, then you can place a band-aid on it and the healing can begin.
Repentance is turning to God and trusting him to clean us so the healing can begin. We trust God for two things when we do this. One, that he will forgive us. The bible tells us that while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8 ) the other thing is that he will give us the power to overcome the sin in our life. Jesus didn’t just die to forgive us, but also to give us power over sin in our life… have you trusted in him? If not, why not today?