Today we will begin a new series from the Old Testament, focusing on Gideon, one of the twelve Judges in the Book of Judges. It is a fascinating book because of the rich history behind the forming of Israel as a nation. In Exodus, Moses has led the Israelites to the Promised Land. And Joshua leading them in the battle to conquer the Promised Land, but after Joshua died, it turns into a dark time in Israel’s early history. After the Israelites conquered the land filled with milk and honey, they enjoyed the local produce and getting prosper. Still, soon they forget about the LORD of Covenant who brought them out of Egypt and started to bow down and worship the false gods of Canaanites. Whenever the Israelites did evil and turned away from God, God would let them being attacked by their enemies in the land until they repent and cry out to God. God would send a Judge, like a hero figure, to deliver the Israelites out of trouble. But the cycle of sin and judgement repeat over and over again in the Book.
1) Trouble drives men to God
In chapter 6 of the Book of Judges, this cycle of sin, judgment and deliverance has repeated. In verse one, the writers recorded that, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.” The Midianites invaded Israel so harshly that they destroyed all the crops and livestock in the land. From Genesis 25:1 we found that the Midianites were desert people descended from Abraham’s second wife, Keturah. It is a nation that was always in conflict with Israelites since Moses’ time in the wilderness. The Bible recorded in verse 6 that “Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.”
When people are in prosperity, they often forsake God and neglected what God has done for them so long as they enjoy their comfortable homes in peace. But when they are miserable fugitives hiding from their troubles, they would remember God’s goodness and cry to him for help. This is a common experience in human history. It was certainly true in the time of Judges in the Old Testament.
A a Baptist teacher in the early 20th Century, Oswald Chambers once said, “In times of prosperity we are apt to forget God; we imagine it does not matter whether we recognise Him or not. As long as we are comfortably clothed and fed and looked after, our civilisation becomes an elaborate means of ignoring God.”
Aren’t we the same in this generation? When everything goes well with promising economy, the people would forsake God and turn away into idolatry. It might not be worshiping ancient Canaanite false gods but we have created lots of idols for ourselves. Better house, better cars, fame, money and power, we would put many things before our Creator and worship things in this creation instead. Prosperity can lead to idolatry of materials. It is to our shame in our own culture like the Israelites, that it must be confessed. We suppose to seek God for his own sake, to worship God in the beauty of holiness, not just obtaining blessings for ourselves. But living in prosperity of a first-world country like Australia in the last few decades, we often worship personal success and wealth, economy and egos; instead, we should recognise God’s love and lift up our thoughts to Jesus and think about God’s goodness. Otherwise, to turn to God only in the hour of our need is a sign of base selfishness. Just like the Israelites only cried out to God when life was tough and their enemies heavily oppressed them. It is better to seek God when we are in troubles than not seeking Him at all.
If it is disgraceful in us that trouble should be needed to drive us to our Creator God, it is God’s mercy to send the crisis for that object. In turns, the calamity that we face each day, like the Australian bush fires and now the pandemic Coronavirus, if it leads to this result of driving us back to God – then it is the greatest blessing in our troubles. Sometimes, the worst thing that happens to us are sent to us from heaven in our indifference to rouse us to our need of God, and lead us to seek our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in repentance. So we may say that if we seek God in happy circumstances, we might be spared some of the troubles of our souls when hard time comes. It is because of the years of spiritual negligence away from God. You will find comfort and peace in the Lord if you get used to put your trusts in Him who is mighty.
I remember in 2001, when terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers in United States, the attendance of all churches across America jumped up over 200%. And you would see the President of United States read from Psalm 23 on the television and pray in the public. Just like our Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Queen would pray for the country in the time of trouble this year. Or like the Israelites in the Book of Judges, when the nation is facing difficulties, people would turn their hearts to seek God.
As Prophet Hosea says in the Scripture, “Then I will return to my lair until they have borne their guilt and seek my face in their misery they will earnestly seek me.” (Hosea 5:15)
Over again and again in the Book of Judges, the Israelites hit rock bottom before turning back to God. How much suffering could they have avoided if they had trusted him? Turning to God shouldn’t be the last resort; we should look to Christ for help each day. This isn’t to say life will always be easy. There will be struggles, but God will give us the strength to live through them. Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope. Call on God first in every situation.
2) If God is sought in trouble, he will be found
Also, if you looked at the passage carefully, you will notice that the Israelites cried to the Lord because of the Midian oppression, not because of their sins. Their unwillingness to turn to God is typical of their lack of obedience to God’s Word. It was only when they could do nothing themselves, and then for a long time afterwards, would they consider calling upon their God of the covenant. But our Lord is faithful to his words, and He has mercy upon His people. As soon as the people cried, God heard them, and sent them first a prophet and then the deliverer Gideon. If we forsook God in our prosperity, it would be reasonable that God should leave us in our need. But God does not deal with us according to our sins. Our claim for God’s help and deliverance does not live in our merit, or our obedience and fidelity. It is has nothing to do with what we do. But in his nature, and character, and conduct. Because God is our Father in heaven, He hears us not out of consideration for our rights, but out of pity for our distresses.
As Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous reformed preacher in the 20th century, said, “Thank God my salvation does not depend upon my frail hold on Him but of His Almighty grasp of me.”
We don’t need to fear that God will not respond to our call. To doubt is not to show our humility, but our distrust in the mercy of God and the influence of Christ’s sacrifice and intercession.
Prophet Jeremiah told us a long time ago about our God’s holy attributes and character. “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
Again, Lord Jesus Christ commands us in the Scripture. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)
Our God is a living God who has ears to listen to our cries. He is here. His Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of the believers. If we have any issues in life, seek Him, and you will find him. When you are in anxiety, worried with anything, or feeling so alone and need help in any situation. Slow down, and turn to God in prayer in the name of His Son Jesus. God has already chosen you to be his children, and he will open the door for you in the time of difficulties. What is important is our relationship through prayer with God. Ask God and seek Him in every situation.
3) The consciousness of sin must come first before deliverance in trouble
However, when we look at the passage in Judges 6, God is found in trouble, but he does not always bring immediate rescue. In verse 7, Israel called for help in need. But God did not send the help at once. The people expected a deliver, like a superhero to save the day, but instead, God sent a prophet. At first, the prophet did not give a word of promise that relief will be accorded to the temporal distress of the nation. The prophet speaks only of sin and shows the ingratitude of the people that they may feel how much they deserve the calamities that have fallen upon them. The Israelites think most of their distresses, but God thinks most of their sins. They cry for deliverance from the yoke of the Midianites, but God wishes first to deliver them from the yoke of iniquity. So, the prophet of repentance comes before Gideon, the deliverer. We must expect that when God visits us in our sins, he will deal with us to save us from spiritual evil before relieving us of physical distress. Why? It is because the priority is important. Spiritual issue of the people is far more severe than the temporal physical distress. Christ came to this world to bore the sicknesses and infirmities of his people, but his greater work was to save them from their sins.
In this passage in Judges, trouble is necessary to soften the hearts of the people and make them willing to listen to the prophet. The trouble by itself does not produce repentance. That is why a prophet is needed. The prophet does not make any prediction, nor does he give any revelation of God; he simply reveals his hearers to themselves. We all need prophets to show us our real character. Much of the Bible is a revelation of human nature which would not have been possible without the aid of prophetic inspiration. The call to repentance from God consists of two things:
First, in recounting the mercy of God, for it is in the light of God’s goodness that we see most clearly our wickedness. The Scripture is like a clean mirror that reflects our true image to us. Like you might have to brush up a bit every morning before you go out to school or work before the lockdown. Or you might clean up yourself to look good before turning video-on in Zoom meetings. Similarly, brush up our sins first and let the prophetic words of God in the Scripture to remind us what we are.
Secondly, the prophet is directly charging Israel with ingratitude and apostasy. Ingratitude means not giving thanks to God for the good things and peace we had, and apostasy means turning away from God to worship other things in life. All sin includes the sin of ingratitude. Until we feel this, it is not good that God should show us more mercy, so we don’t take the blessings and deliverance for granted. Therefore, in the same manner, as God sent John the Baptist before our Saviour Jesus Christ, it is the same order that God sent a prophet before Gideon the Judge. In essence, full salvation will follow repentance and submission of the people.
The same situation can apply in our world right now. If we want God to deliver us from the calamity of Bushfires and Coronavirus, first, we need to listen to His Word in the Scripture and repent from our former way of life. We need to turn away from sin and submit to everything that Christ has commanded us. After that, we will see in God’s timing how the situation brightens and see the end of the tunnel. Our gratitude and obedience are what God requires before deliverance comes to save the day.
Let us now pray to our mighty God, who is willing to save us. Let us confess our sins together as a congregation, and intercede for the nation’s repentance so that our Lord will come to our aid in his timing.