SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 30 May 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 12:8-15
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#18)
I. Three judges in a peaceful time
II. Living in a peaceful time
III. “Peace, peace” when there is no peace
IV. God’s peace declared to His people
We’re continuing with the Book of Judges for some months, and will pause this series temporarily in June and come back to this book in July. On the next four Sundays in June, we’ll ponder on a theme, ‘God’s sovereignty,’ and see our relationship with the sovereign God and how we should reflect His sovereignty in our daily walk with Jesus. I’m excited with this brief excursion we’ll take in June and seek the Lord’s grace for us all.
For today, let us look at the passage we have before us and hear the message of the Holy Spirit for His Church. This message is for churches especially in a peaceful time, like the time you and I of St Columba’s enjoy at present. Compared to the Lord’s churches in a troubled time, like in the first and second quarters of the 20th century with two great wars, our time is a great era of peace.
The time Israel passed under the leadership of three judges of ch. 12 – that is, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon – was like what we enjoy at present. Over the period of two and a half decades, the sons and grandsons of judges rode donkeys which was a clear sign of a peaceful time. Putting that in our terms, they were like cruising in a Qantas airliner to travel overseas instead of flying in a military aircraft wearing a bullet proof jacket or driving a shiny and fancy sedan on smooth surface of modern highways instead of riding an armoured vehicle in a battle field. Although wars take place in the world, like the recent clash between Israel and Gaza, God’s churches experience a peaceful time.
With this record of three judges in a peaceful time, the Lord reminds us of the biblical meaning of ‘peace’ as being and walking with the Lord. He also warns us of the danger of misunderstanding/misinterpreting the present peaceful time. Being and walking with the Lord, enjoying a unity with the Lord is peace; dwelling securely in the presence of the Lord is the biblical meaning of ‘peace.’ For the unbelievers who are outside of the Lord’s covenant blessing, ‘peace’ means salvation; having Jesus’ eternal life through repentance and faith, thus, being moved from sin and its curse and carried over to the bosom of the gracious Lord is peace.
But for today, as our text passage speaks to the Lord’s church, we’ll focus on peace from the perspective of the church on earth and of all who are members of God’s household.
I. THREE JUDGES IN A PEACEFUL TIME
In today’s passage, we have three judges – Ibzan, Elon and Abdon. We have little information on these individuals and know almost nothing about what they did as Israel’s judges. But strangely, we’re told the family settings of two of these judges. More specifically, Ibzan had 30 sons and 30 daughters while Abdon had 40 sons and 30 grandsons who rode donkeys. The only case we find from the Book of Judges that is similar to these is Jair of Jdg. 10, the 7th judge, who had 30 sons. Meanwhile, Elon is the one with the shortest and briefest information and he is simply described as a man from the tribe of Zebulun, judged Israel for ten years and was buried at a place in his tribal land.
What does this strange and brief introduction tell us? Not much, but we could assume from this that both Ibzan and Abdon had multiple wives and they lived in a relatively peaceful time with no major attacks or challenges from outside or discords within. It seems that transition from one judge to the next was carried without any hassle. Also, having many children in such a peaceful time would mean abundance of daily provisions.
The most important message we find with the existence of these judges is God’s continuing grace over His people. We believe and confess that all things come from God. A peaceful time is also a blessing from God. After a stormy time under Jephthah’s ministry, God granted Israel a tranquil and quiet time! God’s grace surrounded Israel and they enjoyed it fully.
II. LIVING IN A PEACEFUL TIME
But, reading this passage, I believe most of you have sensed that something seems missing. Although it might be difficult to put your finger on, there’s something odd in this record. The time of Judges was a time of troubles and challenges and of sinners’ cries to God and Lord’s gracious deliverance. It was not at all a time of peace and of a smooth and tranquil life. But straight after the troubled time of Jephthah, suddenly we’re led to a quiet moment in Israel’s history. Surely, something is not right; something is missing.
Let me tell you what that is – it’s Israel’s relationship with their God. That is missing in this record. Nothing of Israel’s intimacy with their God is hinted here. Other than the existence of a judge in their midst, we read nothing of Israel’s spirituality. We read of a judge and his succession by another. We read of their family settings, but find no clue to Israel’s walk with God or their worship life. That is missing. In the time of these three judges, Israel was not truly devoted to following their God, nor to worshipping Him; they were indifferent to their spiritual life; they were too satisfied with their life in the world to remain faithful to God.
Some of you might wonder whether I’m too critical or censorious of Israel at the time of these three judges. But I don’t think I am, and that is because of the Scripture’s diagnosis of their spiritual address. Straight after the death of Abdon, the last of the three judges of ch. 12, 13:1 says this: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so that LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.” This doesn’t mean the people of Israel suddenly changed their minds and attitudes and started rebelling against God – that’s not the case. What 13:1 states is a sure result of their life in the times of three judges. By the end of the third judge’s death, Israel finally reached a point of God’s discipline. Like the way a human father would carefully watch his child for a time before correcting his child’s wrongs, under the three judges, Israel had continued their evil and grown in it up to the point of their Heavenly Father’s discipline.
III. “PEACE, PEACE,” WHEN THERE IS NO PEACE
Meanwhile, the sons and grandsons of judges rode donkeys. Like the 30 sons of Jair of ch. 10, their minds were merry, and their eyes were busy chasing various worldly pleasures. I say this because there are only two kinds of pleasures before the eyes of every human being – one is spiritual and the other is worldly. There’s no third option. If we don’t read in our text their concern or interest in spiritual things, their eyes must’ve fixed on the other, that is, the worldly pleasures.
Imagine that you were one of the Israelites of Jdg. 12, and saw the judge’s sons and grandsons riding on donkeys, chasing and enjoying the pleasures of the world, what would your eyes and heart perceive? You’d most likely consider following their paths; you’d probably alter your life’s priorities and make gaining worldly things and achieving worldly goals the first importance, and following spiritual virtues maybe the secondary, if not the last, importance. Simply put, the message the judge’s sons and grandsons presented to the people of Israel was of a ‘false peace’ because, as I explained earlier, the presence of God was and is and will eternally be the only condition of ‘true’ peace. Without God, apart from the Lord, there’s no true peace. Peace this world gives is not truly peace at all!
This reminds us of the voice of the prophet Jeremiah. Warning Israel, especially of the impending disaster, Jeremiah pronounced the message of God to all of Jerusalem in Jer. 6:13-14 in these words: “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of My people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah points out the evil Israel committed, that is, they regarded their sins, their sinful lifestyle, lightly, pettily, superficially, but encouraged one another to do more evil, telling each other, ‘peace, peace,’ when there was no peace; in other words, telling one another, ‘God’s blessing is upon you and upon me,’ when God was not in their midst at all! Their hearts and eyes were not on God, but on the world! The time of judges Ibzan, Elon and Abdon was exactly like that of Jeremiah.
Truth is that this is the exact diagnosis of the time you and I are living. We’re living in one of the quietest moments in the history of the human race. Especially we who live on this island-continent are surrounded by placid and still waters – I mean, we’re one of the most blessed peoples on earth in terms of living in peace. Churches enjoy religious freedom, and no one stops Christians from coming to churches on Sundays and observing and benefitting from various religious prerogatives (which seems to be changing these days and gaining a momentum in that direction).
But not many churches warn Christians of their evil, declaring that peace the world gives is not true peace but false one. Not many preachers, thus, not many Christians of our time urge one another to come to God through repenting from each one’s sins. Instead, many prefer a soft massage of ‘peace and prosperity’ to a stern message of repentance from evil ways. This is the picture Jdg. 12 presents, that is, ‘riding donkeys’ and propagating a message of false peace.
There’s a dilemma the earthly church has always been facing. On the one hand, preachers hesitate to warn people by declaring repentance. If a preacher preaches a stern message of repentance, urging his congregants to tear their clothes and instead put sack clothes on – here, I’m using the OT picture words of repentance, but also presenting a true picture of spiritual repentance – people dislike to hear such messages, and if the preacher keeps the colour and tone of his message, it is most likely that that church would soon have to decide to either dismiss the preacher or close the church. On the other hand, if a preacher provides messages that massage people’s ears and mind only with God’s comfort and peace, never provoking them with their sins and need of repentance, more people would come to enjoy the preacher, but they’d never be able to hear a message of ‘true’ peace of God, thus, to examine themselves with the word of God the Physician. I’m speaking generally here, and there are many churches faithfully preaching the message of biblical truth of peace. Yet, generally speaking again, even in such churches that faithfully deliver the biblical messages, it’s not easy, if not totally impossible, for a brother/sister to speak to another brother/sister about a specific sin and the need of repentance. Almost everyone concerns his/her own things and never meddles or interferes another’s business. By this, we pretend we’re in peace. Again, in this present address of many churches and Christians, we’re riding donkeys and declaring ‘peace, peace,’ when there’s no peace!
IV. GOD’S PEACE DECLARED TO HIS PEOPLE
We cannot ride on donkeys and display a false message to one another. It is a time of ‘sack cloth,’ a time of penitence, a time of treating our deadly wounds with the Lord’s ‘true’ peace which only comes through faith in the Son Jesus and worshipping God the Father.
To the ears of His Church, God has declared His message of peace, urging us all to lift our eyes from the things of the world and fix them on Christ. In Rev. 3:15-18, God speaks, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” In 1 Cor. 15:34, God emphasises His message in a few simple words, saying, “Wake up from your drunken stupor.”
In this way, the record of three judges of Israel in our text passage has dropped a bombshell in our midst! We cannot continue in murmuring, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there’s no peace. Instead, we’re to turn our eyes to look to the Lord in repentance and faith; we’re to gather together before the Father and worship Him, in the name of the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit! We ought to encourage one another – our dear loving brothers and sisters – to come closer to the Lord in repentance and enjoy His true peace in faith!
Having risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus came and stood among His disciples on the first day of the week – that is, the Lord’s Day – and said, “Peace be with you.” Let us dwell in Him and let His peace be with us! May the Lord’s peace be upon His church today and tomorrow until the day of His return to us! ***