SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 31 January 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 3:7-11
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#4)
I. The old, old story of man (vs. 7-9a)
II. God delivers His people (vs. 9b-10)
III. Christ is our Deliverer (v. 11)
Often, many people see this book, Judges, not as important or attractive as Joshua or 1 and 2 Samuels. While Joshua was an Israel’s charismatic leader and David a great king of Israel, most judges in this book seem too ordinary to draw reader’s attention. Based on this impression, Judges has often been regarded as a good source book for Sunday School storytelling. Some Christians even regard this book as a good transition or link that connects the eras of two giants in Israel’s history, that is, Joshua and David. In a sense, those views are correct. This is a good source book for Sunday School classes and it helps us to follow the flow of Israel’s history.
But, Judges gives us much more than that; it means to us much more than a simple story book. As I see it, Judges gives us a bird’s eye view on man and God. It helps us to understand who we truly are and what God does for us out of His grace as much as out of His righteousness. Moreover, Judges teaches us of the 21st century how to interpret the current affairs of our days and respond to them through faith in the Lord Jesus. In a word, God reflects our bare faces on the mirror of His word and warns us against disobedience and a syncretic faith.
Thanking God for His inspired word, we humbly and carefully study it, examine our faith and keep trusting Jesus alone in our life. From today, we’re stepping into individual stories of judges and meditate on God’s deliverance of His people, Israel, through His servant, and we begin with Othniel, the first judge in Israel’s history. Although this story of Othniel is only five verse long, this section has a full message for us all to hear and be blessed. So, I invite you to come along with me and hear about God’s deliverance made through Othniel whose name means, ‘God is powerful.’
I. THE OLD STORY OF MAN (VS. 7-9a)
The very first part of God’s message to us is what Israel did before the Lord. V. 7 tells us that they did what was evil in God’s sight. To be more specific, they forgot their God and served pagan idols, namely, the Baals and Asheroth. The picture we have here is that Israel worshipped God of their fathers and worshipped the deities of other nations such as the Baals and Asheroth.
Truth is that if anyone, any people, any nation forgets God, that means they have turned to false gods and serve them. This is because turning away from God means turning to others who are idols, false gods.
Another truth is that, when anyone forgets God and serves false gods, the idols he/she serves are the fertility gods like the Baals and the Asheroth. Simply put, every idol-worshiper worships the Baals and the Asheroth.
You might wonder what I mean by saying this. This is what I mean. The Baals and the Asheroth are the Canaanite’s god and goddess of fertility. People bow to them, believing that they would give many children and material abundance with good fortune. This religion of Baal and Asheroth worship works like this – people worship and present sacrifices to their gods, asking them to satisfy their worshippers’ requests, and their gods repay them. People give first – that is, their allegiance and sacrifices – and their gods give in return various blessings in worldly sense. It’s a ‘vending machine’ religion. It works when a worshipper presses the right button; he gets what he wants from his gods. That is the way of Baal and Asheroth worship, the fertility gods.
In fact, this is the system of all worldly religions other than Christianity. The logic of the world’s religions fits perfectly to the desires and wishes of men. This is why people go wild over all forms of religions, except Christianity, and this is why many of them quickly lose interests in believing a god because they don’t see what they get from the deity they follow enough or satisfactory because they always want more. The mind of atheists is not different from that of idol worshippers as atheists worship themselves, believing they themselves will respond to their self-reliance and satisfy their own needs.
Only Christianity invites sinners to a gracious God who pities on man out of His mercy, not as a reaction to man’s worship or giving sacrifices. Pitying sinful men and women, God saves them who do not deserve such a favour of God. The only condition God requires of sinners is faith in Jesus Christ, the confession of heart and lips that admits Jesus as God’s Son who died in the sinner’s stead to pay the penalty for their sins. This is the good news for all sinners of every tribe and nation to hear and believe and be saved.
So, forgetting this true and gracious God, turning away from Him, people serve false gods, idols, who are the Baals and the Asheroth. This forgetfulness is what we heard in the first sermon of this series on Judges as the amnesia of mankind. We forget easily who God is and what He has done for us. Forgetting the cost God paid for our salvation, we readily go back to our former way of sin. And that’s what God dislikes; He wants us to remember Him and remember Jesus’ blood that saved us.
Therefore, He has set before us a memorial in order for us to remember the true and living God. What is this memorial? Jesus’ death on the cross and our remembrance of His death through partaking the Lord’s Supper. Also, Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week and our remembrance of His rising from the dead through gathering together and worshipping God in His name on the first day of every week, calling it the ‘Lord’s Day.’ For this reason, we all encourage one another to remember the Lord’s Day and prepare for the Communion. Our remembrance of our God and Christ is so important; otherwise, we would readily go the other way – the same evil way Israel went in Canaan, forgetting the Lord and serving the Baals and the Asheroth.
But, no matter how many times the importance of our remembrance of Jesus is preached and emphasised, men are always tempted to go astray and repeat what Israel did in Jdg. 3:7. Christians and churches soon drift away from their faith and follow idols. In fact, not only did Israel go an evil way, but also have all generations under the heaven done the same. It is an old, old story of humankind. If, by God’s grace, one generation restores their faith in the Lord, soon that is forgotten and a greater sin of syncretism and idol worship appears in the following generations. I say this not to make you depressed, but to help you to see the true picture of mankind of whom you and I are members. By helping you to see our true portrait, I desire that none of you put your hope on either yourself or any other gods of this world, but put your trust on the One who alone saves sinners and gives a true rest.
When people forget God and serve idols, our Lord does not remain unstirred; His anger is kindled. And that’s what happened in Jdg. 3:8 and God disciplines His people. On this occasion of Jdg. 3, Israel was sold over to the hand of Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. Interestingly, that name, Cushan-rishathaim, means ‘doubly wicked Cushan.’
If you consider this, you’d be able to find here God’s humour. The wicked Israelites were given over to a ‘doubly wicked’ man and his army. Forgetting God, they served idols and the result of that wickedness is exactly the opposite of their expectation – they desired a better reward than what God had promised, they desired to have a full control of their own life. But they ended up getting shackled by the hands of a doubly wicked man.
Here in Jdg. 3, we don’t know how Israel was oppressed for their eight years’ service to the ‘doubly wicked Cushan.’ But we know one thing, that is, all of Israel cried out to the LORD for help due to their great agony. It must’ve been severe and awful to remain under the rule of that ‘doubly wicked’ man. It must’ve been so terrible and despairing to see no hope in the coming days. So they cried out for a help because liberation from such an agony could not come from man, but from God alone. Israel remembered it and cried to God for salvation.
Isn’t this the old, old story of mankind? People forget God and walk the evil way of the world; then, a heavy burden suddenly finds its way to us and its weight is too heavy to bear. Then, we cry out to God for help, remembering once again that no man but God alone can save us. Israel of Jdg. 3, especially in vs. 7-9a, is the image not of a remote nation, but of us all. Their story and ours are the same old story of humankind.
II. GOD DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE (VS. 9b-10)
Israel cried out to the Lord for help, and the second half of v. 9 tells us that God heard their cry and raised up a deliverer for them! He saves His own people through a deliverer and, in this case, it was Othniel.
In church history, there have been many deliverers sent by God for His people and church. Their task was one, that is, to lead God’s people to repentance and restoration of their faith in the Lord. Their task was to save God’s church from various threats and challenges came from both within and without. God’s church has been under political and military oppression as well as various doctrinal challenges. Under such cases, God’s people desperately needed a deliverer.
And God has always hears their cries and delivers them. That’s because God’s purpose for putting His people under various challenges is to ‘discipline’ them and lead them to repentance and faith once again. God hears His people’s cry and delivers them by sending His deliverer.
Now, coming back to Othniel who was the first judge of Israel, we need to take note of God’s preparation of such deliverer for His people. So, let’s briefly think about this man, Othniel. We haven’t got much explanation of him, other than a very brief description of his family background. He was a Caleb’s nephew and so from the tribe of Judah through which came David and, many years later, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
If you remember what Jdg. 1:11-15 tell us, you’d know him better. What happened was that he volunteered for attacking a Canaanite’s fortified city and, winning the battle, captured it. Then, Caleb gave his daughter, Achsah, to him as promised earlier. We guess that Othniel was one of the few Israelites who believed the promise of God and were willing to conquer the land. It seems that Othniel did focus his eyes on God’s faithfulness rather than the height of a Canaanite’s fortified bulwark.
In spite of repeated dissuasion, in spite of men’s observations, in spite of the culture of the day and general consensus of people, Othniel seemed to focus not on man’s ideas or views based on the culture-of-the-day, but on what was said by the mouth of God. God prepared such a deliverer for His people. Similar to His preparation of Moses for forty years in the wilderness before His call, and later on, of David over many years in his father’s house as a shepherd, then, in Saul’s house as a general, then, as a renegade, hiding from Saul, his king and father-in-law, yet, keeping these men faithful, the Lord prepared Othniel as His servant for His people, Israel. God’s caring hand for His own is strong and awesome!
Then, I want you to pay more attention on this man Othniel and answer to this question, ‘Was Othniel an extraordinary person – different from any of us?’ The answer is, no! Othniel was like any of us; he was as ordinary as you and me. He was not a charismatic warrior but a shy person. If you have a look at Jdg. 1:11-15, especially in vs. 14 and 15, you’ll see what I mean.
Having overtaken the Canaanite city, he married to Caleb’s daughter. After their wedding, Achsah, Caleb’s daughter and now Othniel’s wife, urged her husband to ask Caleb for a wedding present, namely, a water spring. But, as you read v. 15, Othniel hid behind his wife and asked her to make that request to Caleb. This is an evidence of Othniel’s shyness. He had destroyed an enemy’s fortified city, but he was too shy to ask his father-in-law a wedding present. How ordinary he was! I believe many of you would do much better than him. This story of Othniel in Jdg. 1 has been a question to me for long as I wondered why his wife asked instead of Othniel. I also wondered why God included this story in His holy Book. The reason is to let us know that there was nothing special with Othniel; he was as ordinary as anyone in God’s church.
So, we’re drawn to think about what made this shy man, Othniel, stand out among God’s people. The answer is, God’s grace! In His mercy toward His people, God raised Othniel up as a deliverer for Israel. In His mercy, God prepared Othniel by granting him ‘faith.’ And through faith, Othniel believed that God was, is and always faithful to His promise! And through this faith of Othniel, God delivered His people, His church, out of the hands of their enemy.
In this way, Othniel delivered Israel from the enemy. The spiritual meaning of this victory is clearly described in the phrase we read at the end of v. 10, that is, “[Othniel’s] hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.” It means, the hand of God’s deliverer is strong against the ‘doubly-wicked’ one, prevailing and overpowering the Israel’s enemy once and for all. Moreover, this story leads us to Christ who is the true Deliverer of His people, the spiritual Israel, who has overcome the evil one through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead on the third day!
III. CHRIST IS OUR DELIVERER (V. 11)
Jdg. 3:11 explains this to us in two ways.
Firstly, through the rest Israel had. It was a rest after victory over the enemy. No longer could the enemy disturb Israel. Likewise, Jesus delivered us from sin and gave us a complete freedom. No longer does the devil have dominion over us – we’re free eternally in Christ! Like the Apostle Paul proclaims so boldly and triumphantly in Rom. 8, not even death can take our rest in Jesus; nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Secondly, through the duration of peace Israel had, this story points Jesus as our only Saviour. Through Othniel, Israel had rest for forty years. 40 years is a long period of time. But it’s finite; it has an end. So, with the death of Othniel, Israel’s peaceful rest was ended. But not with Jesus; He is alive and His rest is endless, eternal. All who have come to Him and believed in Him rest from now and eternity; it has no end because Jesus is our Deliverer and we’ve received from Him His eternal rest, in another word, His eternal life!
Although we taste our rest in Christ in a limited sense now, but it is the real and true rest in Jesus our Saviour. When we enter our eternal home, when God’s kingdom is fully consummated on earth, we will enjoy our rest in Christ in full sense!
In conclusion, let me remind you that the old story of mankind is to forget God and serve idols. But God is gracious and calls His elect from the world through sending His Deliverer, His Saviour, Jesus Christ, and leads them to repentance and faith. He repeats it many times over because we repeat our old story of sin.
So, let us return to our Father through our Deliverer, Jesus Christ, and trust Him for He is faithful and gracious to us. ***