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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Unlikely Saviour
Text:Judges 3:7-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-06-02
Updated:2019-06-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 75:1,2,6                                                                                         

Ps 97:4,5

Reading – Judges 2; Hebrews 12:1-11

Ps 115:1,2,4,5,6

Sermon – Judges 3:7-11

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

Hy 23:1,2,3,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in our Lord, one thing every preacher must do is preach Christ. It’s an activity which should be at the top of any minister’s job description. For it’s what we’re commanded in Scripture! We have Paul’s example, who said to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). A preacher has a mandate from God to preach the message of Christ—for where would be we, without Jesus? He’s our righteousness, our salvation, our very life!

Sometimes it seems straightforward, preaching Christ. You open the letters of Paul, you take a passage from the four gospels, and it’s right there. In almost every paragraph you can find a message about Jesus, his amazing person and his saving work.

But other times, this activity becomes very hard. It’s not so clear, the connection to the cross. Sure, we accept that Christ is revealed on every page of the Bible, the Old Testament included. Jesus once said about the law and prophets, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39, NIV). They testify about him. But how exactly? Where is He in the ancient laws and regulations of Leviticus? Or where is He in the stories about long ago kings and battles? There are texts that make a preacher wonder, “Can’t I just skip it this week? Could I leave Christ out of this sermon? Would anyone notice?”

Yet if a preacher takes the command seriously, if he understands how important Christ is, then he’ll never leave Him out. He’ll work hard to preach the cross from each and every passage. We might have all kinds of expectations for the sermons, but according to Scripture, there is one that is non-negotiable. Has Jesus been lifted up? Has the cross been preached? So we come to Othniel in Judges 3. What about him? What does this old judge of Israel have to say about the gospel of salvation in Jesus our Lord? Let’s consider our text, as:

God graciously raises up Othniel as the first judge for Israel.

  1. Israel’s evil of idolatry
  2. God’s judgment through oppression
  3. Othniel’s work of deliverance

 

1) Israel’s evil of idolatry: The book of Judges begins on a note of trouble. Joshua has died. For decades he was Israel’s leader as they conquered the Promised land. Still, they weren’t able to eradicate their enemies completely, and there were pockets of resistance. So with Joshua dead, who was going to lead them into these final battles? At the start of Judges, you can almost sense the Israelites losing momentum.

And without a faithful leader, the people are vulnerable—not far from anarchy. This is an ugly theme in Judges, “In those days, there was no king, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” When God takes away his restraining hand, when there’s no authority to keep us in line, disaster is looming.

Chapter 2 describes the pattern that is repeated so often in this book—it prepares us for the worst, if you will. God foresees that the people will do evil in his sight, usually by turning to the Baals. So the LORD will chastise Israel by sending hostile nations against them. Yet after a period of discipline, God’s people will cry out, and He’ll have mercy. The LORD will save them by raising up a judge, someone to beat back the enemy and provide godly direction. But no sooner than the judge is dead, and the people will fall again into sin and idolatry. This is how it went, time after time: a vicious, almost hopeless cycle!

This was hardly the situation that the people imagined when they crossed the Jordan some years ago. It was a prosperous and fertile land, but where was the peace and security they were hoping for? Good crops aren’t worth much if they’re getting plundered or burned!

We get a hint at God’s reason for this, earlier in chapter 3. There were still some Canaanite people in and around Palestine, and this is why: “These are the nations which the LORD left… that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD” (vv 1,4). In a time of shaky peace, the LORD had a purpose. He was testing his people, refining them. How will they respond to their enemies and handle the hardships of war? What will Israel do with their disappointments in battle, or their frustrations in farming? Will they trust and obey?

Isn’t it so often in the hardships of life that our true character comes out? It’s one thing to be richly blessed, to find success, and to see our plans work out just right. But then we’re tested with a setback, some sorrow or disappointment. Will we trust and obey? Or there’s a renewed temptation toward some evil, and we realize that we still have so much to learn about holiness. We realize anew our need to depend entirely on God and his grace.

So it was for the people of Israel. God was testing them, to make them more holy. He wouldn’t remove the threat of pagan religion entirely, but leave it there for them to wrestle with and overcome. He wouldn’t give them total peace, but give a new generation the opportunity to learn to fight under his direction.

Our text tells the story of the first judge in this period. Compared to some of the other accounts—like that of Samson—this story is told with a minimum of detail. Short and sweet: nothing distracts from the message of God’s intervention in a time of trouble: the LORD delivered his people!

But first the context, the need for salvation: “So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs” (3:7). You’ve heard of Baal and Asherah. This was the male and female god of vegetation and fertility. If you wanted a good harvest, these were the ones to ring. The gods gave no guarantees, but they made you feel better about the possibility. Farming had always been an important activity in Canaan, so the old shrines of Baal and Asherah still littered the countryside.

And the people of Israel were lured to go there. They wanted good crops, after all. They like some extra “insurance,” another god or two to depend on. But the result of idolatry was unmistakable, as always: “They forgot the LORD their God” (v 7). This is exactly what Moses had warned them about in Deuteronomy: “Don’t serve the gods that you find in the land.” It was all so predictable. But they did it anyway.

So why did they? Why would you ever conclude that bowing to a wooden pole is the answer to your troubles? And before we scorn the Israelites too loudly, the same can be asked of us. For haven’t we made our own idols, set up our own earthly securities and trusted them? What is the attraction of a false god?

First, consider the nature of faith. Faith needs an object. That is, we need something—someone—to look to, somewhere to place our trust. And our tendency is to look for this in the wrong places. For we hold onto the things that are visible, we love what we can control. We trust whatever seems like it’s most present, whatever feels most real to us.

This was Israel’s thinking at Mount Sinai, when they made the golden calf. This was a god they could see, a god they could feel better about than that invisible God thundering on the mountain. So for us: in our unbelief, in our forgetfulness, we don’t always experience God’s nearness. We sort of doubt his promises, so we think we need some extra help. We don’t embrace the richness of fellowship with God, so we look for satisfaction in another place.

What kind of idols do we mean? I don’t want to give a long list, because it could be anything, and it is anything—anything we allow to come between God and us. As Paul puts it in Romans 1, it’s when we worship created things and not the Creator. An idol is something we’ve permitted into our life that prevents us from walking with God in a devoted relationship. It’s what draws our trust and loyalty away from Christ, and pours it into something else.

Take a moment to search out the idols in your life. Idols are revealed by your securities. We can ask ourselves: “What am I really trusting in for this next week, or during this anxious time, or for my future?” Idols are revealed by our priorities: “What’s most important to me, day by day? What do I first want to spend my time doing?” And idols are revealed by our fears. What do we most fear? Do we fear being alone? Do we fear sickness? Do we fear a loss of control? We can ask: “What if this possession was taken away? What if this activity was no longer possible for me? What if this person wasn’t in my life? Could I still be happy in Christ, and still be thankful?”

The Word confronts us with our idolatry. The Scriptures tell us that we are great sinners, but even more, that Christ is a great Saviour! For Jesus came to save us from our idols. He shows that we have no need for anything besides the LORD. At the cross, Jesus showed that we can trust in him alone. He shows us that God’s grace is sufficient for every need that we’ll ever have. When we believe in Christ, He can be our security. He can be our joy. Christ can banish every fear and make up for every lack. But let’s also consider,

 

2) God’s judgment through oppression: If Israel’s idolatry was predictable, so was God’s judgment. The LORD told them that He’d do this. We read about this step in the painful cycle in chapter 2, “[God] sold them into the hands of their enemies all around” (v 14). Notice the language of selling: God is displeased with his people, so He takes away his “owner’s protection.” He puts them in the bargain basket, and He says whoever wants can have them!

The first to lay hands on Israel was Cushan-Rishathaim, described as the “king of Mesopotamia” (3:8). Mesopotamia is a large region to the north-east of Israel. About this particular king we know very little. The only thing is that probably even his name would’ve struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites. Literally, it means Cushan the “dark, the doubly-wicked.” He had a name like some other nasty people in history, like “Ivan the Terrible” or “Vlad the Impaler.” When such an enemy is ready to invade, you should be scared.

We’re also not told much about Cushan’s oppression of Israel, but the general outline in chapter 2 speaks of “despoiling and harassing,” “distress and groaning.” Cushan the “Doubly-Wicked” probably plundered their wealth and exploited the people. For eight long years Israel was a slave in her own land.

And remember, this misery was repeated throughout the period of the Judges. After a period of peace, and then sin, another nation would invade: crops stolen, taxes imposed, a cloud of fear and anxiety over the land. Later on, Gideon asks the painful question: “If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (6:13).

On the one hand, it was easy to see why. If Israel would break covenant with God, then He’d take action against them. This was the consequence of sin, plain and simple. But look closer. This wasn’t simply a case of “crime and punishment,” God giving a penalty to a law-breaker. No, in discipline God had a gracious purpose.

Why else would He let this cycle continue, for two or three hundred years of the judges? After a couple times, God could’ve given up on Israel. We say, “He should’ve given up.” How tiring this was to him! What an embarrassment! A dozen times He could’ve sold them to their enemies, and walked away. But a dozen times, the LORD graciously took them back.

For God is always looking at the big picture. He’s never reactive, moving from crisis to crisis. God never loses momentum. Even in the dark days of the judges, God is working on his plan: his plan to save, a plan that He outlined before the foundation of the world. He never abandons that plan, but He is ever-faithful! With tyrants like Cushan-Rishathaim, the LORD brought judgment, but God hadn’t changed his mind about his people. They were still his covenant people—loved not for their own sake, but for Jesus’ sake alone.

And because He loved them, He’d also bring this discipline upon them. Now, if you were the Israelites, you can be sure that it wasn’t easy to accept. It’s not easy to see the blessing in hardship! Hebrews 12 speaks of this, how God will chasten his children: in different ways, perhaps through persecution, illness, or unemployment, the death of someone we loved, or the ongoing struggle with the brokenness of life and relationships. And such discipline is hard: “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful” (v 11). In the midst of hardship, joy and thanksgiving are usually far from our minds.

Yet the Spirit wants us to look behind the scenes, and see the gracious hand of God! For “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons” (v 7). A season of hardship actually shows that God is treating us as his own. Far better than we realize, God knows our need to be corrected and shaped.

It’s what earthly dads do, in all weakness—and it’s what our heavenly Father does, so perfectly. “We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (v 9). It’s what God wanted for Israel, that they might learn to obey him better. And it’s what he wants for us. He wants discipline to yield the fruit of righteousness, when we are trained by our hardship. Trained to trust, trained to obey, trained to walk in humility before God. His discipline is meant to focus our minds, to lighten the load of our lives by dropping whatever is not really important and helpful, and to cause our hearts to rest more fully in him.

It’s vital to look at God’s discipline in the right way. For we might still want to put an “equals sign” between discipline and punishment: you do something wrong, you pay the price. We might conclude when we suffer that God is still holding against us some old transgression, like He’s letting us know that He hasn’t forgotten.

But as bad as it gets, as terrible as it feels, the Father isn’t punishing us for guilt! He isn’t bringing his wrath against us. For what human being could ever bear the curse of God, and live? Israel couldn’t bear it, and we can’t. Who could ever endure God’s just punishment on guilt, beside our Lord and Saviour? But by discipline, He wants us to learn holiness. And to seek deliverance from him alone.

 

3) Othniel’s work of deliverance: Have you ever had a day when you almost forgot to pray? You breeze through the morning and everything’s going fine; you’re busy at lunch, so there’s no time to ask for God’s continued blessing. You’re coasting along, when suddenly it hits: a crisis at home, a sudden worry, what looks to be a serious trouble at work. And you pray—even for the first time all day. But even when we take God for granted like this, He promises to hear and answer when we call on him in faith.

The Israelites were sinning, then suffering, so they start praying. The people “cried out to the LORD” (v 9). And the LORD answers: “The LORD raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (v 9).

As we said, this is the first judge that God sent. When we hear the term “judge,” we shouldn’t picture officials presiding over courts of law, but leaders who had a wide range of power. These judges pointed out the right way to the people, on the battlefield, but also in the home and the city and the tabernacle.

Some of these twelve judges were obscure. Everyone has heard of Samson and his misadventures, but nobody remembers Othniel. Yet compared to many of the others, Othniel actually stands out—because about him nothing negative is said! It seems that he just faithfully and humbly carried out his God-given work. And if you look back, Othniel had already shown himself to be a brave leader among the people. In Joshua 15, we learn that this same Othniel led the men of Judah into battle against a fortified Canaanite city.

That was a long time ago, so by our chapter Othniel was probably a senior citizen. And because of his age, he might’ve seemed like an unlikely saviour! “How’s he supposed to help us? Shouldn’t he be retired by now? What can this old man do against Cushan the Doubly-Wicked?” In this regard, Othniel fits in with the other judges, who were often not the kind of men you’d pick to lead the people. For one was a woman, another the son of prostitute, others had dubious family connections. Few of them were model believers.

But God doesn’t always pick those who are voted “most likely to succeed.” And in this way the judges point to another unexpected saviour—yes, to our Saviour, Jesus Christ! For Jesus too, seemed like an unlikely liberator. He wasn’t strong and mighty, someone who demanded attention. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2).

But here is what makes all the difference: God chooses, and God equips. It is said of Othniel, “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel” (v 10). His mission was not from man, but from God. And God wouldn’t let Othniel go into battle by himself. This lowly man would fight and win, “Not by might or by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6).

And think again of our Saviour. He was a man who faced all the limitations we face, who was subject to every temptation. He too, needed the Spirit for the work He’d do. Without the Holy Spirit, his mission would’ve ended in failure. But anointed with the Spirit, He was faithful. Filled with the Spirit, He was able to conquer all the hosts of the devil.  

In God’s power, Othniel accomplished great things against a formidable opponent: “He went out to war, and the LORD delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim” (v 10). Again, there’s little detail; we don’t read about careful strategies or impressive miracles in battle. This is all it has to say, “The LORD delivered.” Because that’s all that matters. In our misery, in our guilt—even in that almost endless cycle of sin and repentance, sin and repentance—we can cry out to God in Christ, and He will deliver us.

The result in Judges 3: “So the land had rest for forty years” (v 11). After years of suffering, there was relief, peace and freedom in the land. Christ too has brought us peace—and this peace isn’t the happy feeling you have when everything is well, but it is peace with God. We once were God’s enemies, but Christ restored us to our Maker.

Othniel brought the land into a forty year rest, but Christ did something far better. For He reconciled us to God and restored to fellowship forever. Christ went between us and the LORD, and by the cross He bore the curse of our guilt. Now God calls us friends, his children, his loved ones! It’s a peace so powerful that we can face every uncertainty of daily existence with true serenity—because things are good between God and us!

We’ve come to the last line of our text. It might sound like another gloomy note: “Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died” (v 11). That’s ominous, because we know what happens in Israel whenever a righteous leader passes away. But we also know that God is faithful! After Othniel, God will send another. And then another. And another. For a thousand years and more, God will keep sending saviours to his people, judges and kings and prophets and mighty men.

Until God sent the One who died, and who rose on the third day. Until the One who delivers us from all our enemies, and who takes away sin forever. It’s him we preach, him we worship, and him we trust: Jesus Christ, our glorious Redeemer!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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