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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The LORD shows grace to His wayward people
Text:Judges 13:22,23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from the 2010 Canadian Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 113:1,2

Psalm 38:10

Psalm 78:22,24,25,26

Hymn 16:1,3

Psalm 113:3


Read:  Judges 13

Text:  Judges 13:22,23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How often can you keep coming back?  How often can you turn back to God and say to Him yet again, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”?

  We know the answer, or at least we know what to say in answer to that question.  “We can keep coming back every day again.  We can ask the Lord to forgive us again and again and again.”

But can you?  Can you really?

It is easy to pray to God “and forgive us our sins” when things seem to be ok, when we don’t think we have much reason to think too deeply about what those sins are.  But what about when your sin is big, really big and you know that it is really big?  What about when you fall into that same sin not once, not twice, but again and again and again?  How often can you keep coming back?  At what point of time does God say “That’s enough.  I’m tired of this.  You’ve had your chance, you failed.  There is no more forgiveness left”?

And what about our loved ones?  Your child, your brother, your sister, your friend or another who has turned their back on God, who is caught up in the deeds of darkness and shows no sign of repentance?  At what point do we stop praying?  At what point do we say “That’s enough”, there is no way back for him or for her?

Who is the God whom we serve?  What is He like?  How does He deal with His covenant people?  How does he deal with the wayward?  What hope is there for us when we have sinned and sinned repeatedly?  Can we come back to Him?  Is God’s grace sufficient for a sinner such as me?

In the book of Judges, chapter 13, we enter the Old Testament world of Israel at a time when God’s covenant people were at one of their lowest points ever.  At this time the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, they had turned away from serving Him and had gone after the gods and the idols of the nations around them.  But while God’s people had all but given up on Him, the LORD was still true to His promises.  And so He came, the Angel of the LORD.  He came with a message of hope:  hope for a barren couple who had all but given up on having children and hope for God’s wayward people, the people of His covenant.

I preach to you the gospel under the following heading:

The LORD shows grace to His wayward people

  1. Hope for the hopeless.
  2. Grace for the guilty.

1. Hope for the hopeless.

If there ever was such a thing as a hopeless case we could be justified in concluding that in Judges 13 the people of Israel fit into that category.  And so did Manoah and his wife.

The Book of Judges describes the history of God’s covenant people Israel in the years after they had come into the Promised Land.  The LORD had blessed His people, delivering them out of Egypt, bringing them through the wilderness and leading them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  The LORD had given them everything: they could not have asked for more!  But the people soon forgot the LORD their God, they turned their back on Him and rejected Him.  Judges 2 describes this in verse 10-12.

Judges 2:10–12

10 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.  11 Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; 12 and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.

And this apostasy of God’s people comes back over and over again in the book of Judges.  A recurring refrain in the book of Judges is “And the people of Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”  And that’s what we read again in Judges 13.

  But there is something different about Judges 13.  In each of the other cases where the book of Judges says that the people of Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD, in Judges 3 (in both verse 9 and 15), judges 4, 6 and 10, after the LORD gave His people into the hands of their enemies, it says that the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals.”  But not here in Judges 13.  Judges 13:1 simply says that

“. . . the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”

And that’s it.  There is no word of repentance, of a crying out to God.  Nor do we read again in the book of Judges that the people of Israel cried out to the LORD.

And so the LORD delivered His people Israel into the hands of the Philistines, and they ruled over them for forty years.

The Philistines were a sea-faring people who had settled along the coast of Israel.  Although some Philistines were already there in the days of Abraham at about 2000 BC, they came in increasing numbers between 1200 BC and 1100 BC, just before the story of Samson.  They settled in and around five cities, the cities of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron.  But the Philistines had plans:  they wanted to take much more of the land of Canaan.  And so they invaded the South West of Israel, the area where the tribe of Dan originally settled as well as the tribes of Judah and of Simeon.  The Philistines were a force to be reckoned with.  Not only did they have their giants, big strong soldiers like Goliath, but they had technology that was superior to that of Israel.  While Israel was still using bronze in those days, the Philistines had iron.  And an iron sword or spear would do more damage than one made of bronze.  And so it was that they dominated much of Israel for forty years.

Meanwhile, in Israel itself things were going from bad to worse.  Judges 10:6 describes what was happening in those days, saying that

“. . . the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.”

There still some who worshipped God, and some did go up to the Tabernacle to make their yearly sacrifices.  But these were the days of Eli the priest.  And Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas acted wickedly before the LORD.  This wickedness eventually led to the events of 1 Samuel 4, when Israel went out to battle against the Philistines at Aphek.  At the first battle at Aphek Israel was defeated by the Philistines and about 4000 soldiers were killed.  The people of Israel tried to make sense of what was happening and the elders of the people of Israel said,

“Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?”

But instead of repenting of their sin and turning to the LORD, they said, “Let us force Him to help us!”  1 Samuel 4:3,

“Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.”

And so they did that.  But Israel lost the battle, 30,000 soldiers were killed, the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas were killed and the ark of God was captured. 

  In spite of all this, God’s people did not return to Him but they went from bad to worse.  “In those days” the book of Judges says, “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That was the situation in the days of Samson.  If ever there was a time when things looked hopeless for God’s people, it was then.

But then something amazing took place.  In the little town of Zorah, a few kilometers from the Philistine border, the Angel of the LORD came down to a woman, the wife of Manoah.  We do not know much about Manoah and his wife, but the Bible tells us an important detail:  Manoah’s wife was barren and had no children.  Now the inability to have children is a difficult thing for almost all married couples but for the people in Old Testament Israel it was even more so.  Not only did Manoah and his wife miss out on the joy of parenthood, but in the Old Testament barrenness was a sign of God’s judgment upon His people.  In Deuteronomy 7 the LORD had promised His people that if they were faithful in keeping God’s covenant, they would be blessed.  Deuteronomy 7:14,

“You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.”

But now Manoah’s wife was barren.  Although she herself trusted in the LORD the people as a whole did not.  And her barrenness was evidence of God’s covenant curse upon His wayward people.

But there would be hope for the hopeless!  There would be hope for Manoah and his wife.  And there would be hope for the wayward people of Israel.  Judges 13:3,

And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.”

“You are barren,” the Angel said, “but you shall conceive!  You are infertile, your womb as good as dead.  But the LORD will give you a son!”

  And not only that, but, the Angel went on,

“. . . he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

And there we see hope for the hopeless!  Hope for Manoah and his barren wife, for they shall have a son, but also hope for Israel.  The people of Israel had turned their back on the LORD, and Judges 18 further describes how the tribe of Dan, Manoah’s own tribe, had seriously departed from the ways of the LORD, but yet the LORD had mercy, the LORD would show His grace to His wayward people.  A son would be born of a barren woman, and he would begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.  He would only begin to do this; he would not complete it.  The LORD would first lead His people to repentance, and only then, in 1 Samuel 7, would those 40 years of Philistine domination over Israel come to an end.  But even now, even before they had repented, the LORD would show His grace, He would begin to deliver His wayward people, He would be true to His promises.

But this man, Samson, would not be an ordinary person.  He would be set apart from ungodly Israel, called to be a Nazarite from birth.  Now the laws concerning a Nazarite can be found in Numbers chapter 6.  A Nazarite was a person who was separated, set apart from his people in order to be devoted to God.  Such a Nazarite would not normally do this for life, but only for a time.  And during that time he would not be allowed to drink wine or any strong drink, he could not cut his hair and he was not to touch a dead body.  In this way the Nazarite was to be set apart from the world, set apart from sin and wickedness to live in holiness before the LORD.

  But Samson was to be a Nazarite from birth.  Actually, he was to be a Nazarite from before birth, and so his mother was to make sure that she would be careful not to drink wine or any strong drink, nor to touch anything unclean.  In this way the people of Israel would be reminded of their need to be separated from all that was wicked and ungodly.  Yes, the LORD would show His grace to His wayward people, but it was a with-holding grace, keeping the enemy, the Philistines back, keeping them from wiping out Israel all together until His people repented and consecrated themselves once more to God.

And so the LORD would prepare that way to show grace to His wayward people.  There would be hope for the hopeless.  And, as we will see in our second point, there would be grace for the guilty.

2. Grace for the guilty.

After the Angel had spoken to her, Manoah’s wife came and told her husband saying,

“A Man of God came to me, and His countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God, very awesome.”

And so she told him all that the Angel had said.  But Manoah wants to know more, and so he prayed to God and he said,

 “O my Lord, please let the Man of God whom You sent to us again and teach us what we shall do for the child who will be born.”  (Judges 13:8)

And God listened to Manoah and the Angel of the LORD came to speak to his wife once more.  The woman than ran to her husband and spoke to him saying,

“Look, the Man who came to me the other day has just now appeared to me!”

So Manoah got up, followed his wife, came to the Man and said to Him,

“Are You the Man who spoke to this woman?”  And He said, “I am.”

And so Manoah saw the Angel of the LORD for himself.  But he did not know who this Angel of the LORD was.  He did not realize that this was God Himself who had come to speak to Manoah as Man to man.  So Manoah, thinking that this was just a man, invited Him to stay back and enjoy a meal.  Verse 15:

Then Manoah said to the Angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain You, and we will prepare a young goat for You.”

This was the culturally appropriate thing to do and it was also very sensible since people often had to travel long distances and did not know how long it would be before they would be able to find somewhere to eat.  But Manoah did not understand that he was, in fact, inviting the Lord Himself for a meal. 

  The Angel of the LORD would not stay and eat with Manoah, but instead He said to Manoah in verse 16,

 “Though you detain Me, I will not eat your food.  But if you offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the LORD.”

Manoah still did not realize who it was that was speaking to him, so he asked another question in verse 17.

“What is your name, that when Your words come to pass we may honor you?”

“Who are you?”  Manoah wanted to know.  What is your name?  But the Angel replied and said to Manoah,

“Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?”  

His name was wonderful.  That is, it was beyond understanding, too marvelous for Manoah to comprehend.  Now we know His Name, and we also know that the name “Wonderful” would be given to the coming Messiah in Isaiah chapter 9 where it says that His name would be “Wonderful Counselor, almighty God, everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.”  But Manoah did not yet know who his visitor was.   But then the LORD did a wondrous thing.  Judges 13:20,21.

20 it happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar—the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 When the Angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the Lord.

But now Manoah is scared!  “We shall surely die!” he cries out to his wife, “because we have seen God!”  Manoah is suddenly aware not just of Israel’s sin and apostasy, but he is aware of his own sin-filled state.  Here he was, clothed in filthy rages, standing before the Most holy God!   How could it be that he, a sinner, could stand before God and live?  “We shall surely die!” he said. 

And they should have!  They should have in that our God is holy and we are not.  If the Lord had decided to strike Manoah and his wife dead on the spot, yes, if He was to strike us down for our sin, He would be just to do so.  He would be just to wipe us off from the face of the earth on account of His holiness and His judgment on sin.  But thanks be to the LORD, our God is not only just:  He is also merciful.  Manoah’s wife said to him,

“If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.”

Think about it, Manoah!  Think about who the LORD is and what He is really like.  If He had wanted to strike us dead for our sins, why would He have decided announce the birth of Samson, the one who would begin to deliver Israel?  No, God would not kill them.  He would not kill them, not because of their righteousness but because of His grace, grace for the guilty.  And to convince Manoah and his wife of His grace, the LORD accepted a burnt offering from their hand.  He accepted an offering for sin.  And therefore they could see Him and live.

And now what about you, and what about me?  Will God’s grace for the guilty also extend to us? 

  When the LORD promised Manoah and his wife that they would have a son, He told them that this son, Samson, would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.  He told them this before Israel as a nation had repented, before they cried out to the Lord for relief.  Repentance was necessary, and the day would come when Israel would humble themselves and repent of their sins.  But God’s grace is such that He elects sinners to receive and enjoy salvation.  The deliverance of God’s people Israel did not depend on their worthiness but on God’s grace and on His determination to fulfill His covenant promises. 

And now we don’t just look to Samson or to others who began to deliver God’s people from their enemy, but we look to our Lord Jesus Christ who completed the full deliverance of all God’s people.  He came to earth while we were still His enemies and He died for sinners such as you and me.  Brothers and sisters, this is your God!  That is what He is like, and that is what He has done for you and for me.

You have sinned and I have sinned and there are times when our sin is so great that we might despair of God’s mercy and exclaim with Manoah, “We shall surely die!”  But God so loved the world that He sent us His only Son.  And if He has done that, if He has accepted the Christ as a full and final offering for sin, will He not yet have mercy on us all? 

Repentance is needed of course, not just for Israel but also for us.  In fact, both the birth of Samson and his being set apart as a Nazarite, holy to the LORD, was a call for all Israel to repent and turn to God.  And eventually the nation of Israel would repent.  Eventually, under Samuel, they would put away their foreign gods and they would confess their sin in 1 Samuel 7:6 saying,

“We have sinned against the LORD.”

And then and only then would the Philistines would be subdued so that they no longer came into the territory of Israel.  But the Lord would show His grace, even while His wayward people had not yet turned to Him.  He would not forget the promises He had made to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  He would not forget His promise to have a people for Himself.  And He would not forget that from this people would come the Messiah, the Son of God. 

There is grace for God’s wayward people! There is grace for the guilty!  And God offers His grace in Jesus Christ to you and to me.  And so turn to Him.  Turn back to Him again and again.  Turn to Him true repentance, saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” and believe that He will deliver His people from their sin.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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