OTE 11: THE PERIOD OF THE JUDGES

JUDGES 3:12-30

SEPTEMBER 27, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Lets begin this morning with a quick review.  We are over half the way through our Old Testament Essentials overview of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Just out of curiosity, how many of them can we name?  Im not expecting us to name them all, but as a group lets see if we can name half of the Old Testament Essentials.  Who can name one?  How about another?  And another?  Lets try for two more.  Let me fill in the blanks.  Old Testament Essential One Creation.  Two the Fall of Humankind. Three Abraham.  Four Abrahams grandsons, Esau and Jacob. Five Joseph, Abrahams great-grandson. Six the Exodus. Seven the Wilderness Wandering.  Eight the Giving of the Law. Nine the Tabernacle. Ten the Conquest.

            We only have seven more to go, and the Old Testament Essential for today, the eleventh of seventeen, is the period of the Judges. It covers the period between the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy, and to illustrate this period we will look at one judge.  Weve looked at these Judges before.  In fact, I preached a sermon series on them in the past, and today I arbitrarily chose one to revisit, because its one of my favorite judge story in the Book of Judges.

            Now, if you were around for my sermon series on the Book of Judges you remember, at least I hope you remember, three things about this book and the period of time it describes. First, I hope you remember the classic line in the Book that repeats itself again and again. It is the line, Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In other words, the Book of Judges recounts a time of moral depravity.  Everyone just did what they wanted to do. Second, I hope you remember that the line not only repeated itself, but a certain cycle repeated itself in the book. The cycle went as follows.  The people would sin doing what was right in their own eyes and God would send a foreign nation to oppress and occupy a part of the land, and the people would repent, and God would raise up a judge, who then delivered the people from their enemies and lead them to another time of peace and well being.  Now this pattern, this cycle would repeat itself, again and again in the book, but a close reading of the book reveals that the people of Israel keep getting worse and worse as time goes on, so it is not so much that they are going in a dark circle, but rather they are in a death spiral.

            The third thing I hope you remember from our series on the Book of Judges is, these judges are not courtroom judges, a person who presides over a trial to determine the innocence or guilt of a defendant. While one judge functions somewhat in this fashion, a female judge named Deborah, the majority do not. Samson, for example, was a judge and we cannot imagine Samson in a courtroom. No, the Hebrew word translated as judge is best understood  as a deliverer or a rescuer. God raises up these individuals to save the Israelites from their enemies.

            OK, lets turn to the judge story I chose to revisit from our previous sermon series.  For you Game of Thrones fans, the show that won an Emmy last Sunday for best television drama, this story is right up your alley.

            The story of the second judge is the story of a lefty and a hefty, an assassin and a king, a story of humility and humiliation, in all a delightfully disturbing tale. If reading the story today is entertaining then reading it as an ancient Israelite would have been gut busting.        Lets begin reading the account Judges 3:12.

 

            The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what is evil in the sight of the Lord. In alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel; and they took possession of the city of palms. So the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab eighteen years.

 

            The name Eglon means fat calf, and that fact is significant to the narrative. The King had gotten hefty, obese, by living off the fat of the land. He reigned in a palace located in the city of Palms which is Jericho. This is the first city that the Israelites conquered. They had annihilated all its inhabitants and took it for themselves. Now Eglon occupies Jericho. All of this serves to reveal how far Israel has fallen. After eighteen years of heavy oppression, Israel cries out and God responds. Verse 15.

 

            But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on his right thigh under his clothes. Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who had carried the tribute on their way.

 

            One of our five grandchildren is left-handed, our oldest grandchild, Edison. Left handers are rather rare, comprising only ten-percent of the population. Being left-handed explains how Ehud got through security. Being left-handed, Ehud wore his sword on his right thigh, a place the palace security guards would not have checked. You would not want them working as TSA employees today. Verse 19.

 

            But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, I have a secret message for you, O king.

 

            Having presented his tribute to the King, after establishing trust, Ehud leaves but when he gets to Gilgal he turns back to use his sword. Gilgal was the city where Joshua had set up their first memorial of 12 stones, placed there in order to teach future generations about Gods provision. It was a reminder of God's stopping the flow of the Jordan River so the twelve tribes of Israel could cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.  Joshua had the leader of each tribe place a stone there as a remembrance to future generations. So, Ehud walks by the stones, is reminded of God's provision, and he leaves his party, returns to Jericho, the City of Palms, and enters into the throne room of Eglon with a secret message. This is where it gets crazy.

 

            So the king said, Silence! and all his attendants went out from his presence. Ehud came to him, while he was still sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, I have a message from God for you. So he rose from his seat. Then Ehud reached with Ehis left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglons belly; the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out (Thats discreet lingo for evacuating ones bowels). The Ehud went out into the vestibule, and closed the doors of the roof chamber on him, and locked them.

            After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, He must be relieving himself in the cool chamber. So they waited until they were embarrassed. When he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them. There was their lord lying dead on the floor.

 

            Besides the door being locked, the smell of the evacuated bowels likely led the guards to believe that their king was indeed relieving himself. The guards delay helps Ehud escape without detection. Lets finish the story. Verse 26.

 

            Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the sculptured stones, and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites went down with him from the hill country, having him at their head. He said to them, Follow after me; for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand. So they went down after hime, and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and allowed no one to cross over. At that time they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest eighty years.

 

            So what can we learn from such a delightfully disturbing story?  Well, a couple of things, and then we are done.  First, God puts up with a lot.  Kay Daigle lives in Texas and is the Founder and Executive Director of Beyond Ordinary Women Ministries.  She said that she and her sister used to get in fights as children. I think of Trudy and her sister Susan. Trudy was a biter when she was little and Susan complained to their mother saying, Trudy bit me! to which her mother said, Bite her back! Well, Susan was and is quite literal, I mean very literal, so thats what she did.  She went over and bit Trudy on the back.  Trudy has about a one inch scar in the small of her back to this day.

            Anyway, Kay Daigle said, growing up she and her sister would often get into fights and they would hit one another regularly. There was no turning the other cheek between the two of them. If Kay got angry, she hit her; if Kays sister got angry she would hit Kay, and Kay would hit her back!  She said the two of them had no clue what it meant to forbear with one another.

            Kay Daigle then went on to define forbearance. Forbear means to bear for a period of time, to sustain, to endure. She says it suggests sustaining whatever comes at us and holding ourselves back from reacting to it.

            God, throughout the biblical history, puts up with a lot before reacting to it. Thank God puts up with a lot with us prior to acting on it. Can you imagine if every one of our slip-ups was met with immediate consequences from God? We joke about bolts of lighting striking someone who just said or did something to offend God, but can you imagine an electric shock every time we slipped up? 

            Well, it doesnt happen because God puts up with a lot.  Just read the Book of Judges.  Just read all the times the people slip up and God bails them out. Its a recurring theme in their life and its a recurring theme in our life. In fact, God gave us the ultimate bail out in his son, Jesus Christ.

            Second, God chooses a variety of normal folk to further Gods purposes. The variety of judges is a case in point. Othniel, the first judge, was a rural copper-smith, a simple, family man whom God raised him up and made him powerful. Samson, another judge could be regularly found working out at Golds Gym and was somewhat of a womanizer. Deborah was a woman, for Gods sakes, a prophet and honest to goodness judge who was used to being in the courtroom and not on the battlefield. Gideon was a farmer with low self-esteem.  Yet, these are the heroes in the Book of Judges.

            God continues to use a variety of everyday people to further his purposes. One of the more astonishing promises of Scripture is recorded in Johns Gospel, chapter 14. Jesus is talking about His coming death and resurrection. He assures His disciples, common ordinary men, from common ordinary walks of life, that he will send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and empower them. Then He gives this astonishing promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).

            Jesus' followers will do great works.  That's the promise. One of the great theologians of the 20th century was Charles Schultz, the author of the Peanuts comic strip. In one strip, Lucy comes storming into the room and demands that Linus change TV channels and then threatens him with her fist if he doesnt.

           What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over? asks Linus.

            These five fingers, says Lucy. Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.

            Which channel do you want? asks Linus.

            After a moment, he turns away, looks at his own fingers and says, Why cant you guys get organized like that?

            For centuries, when God's people, everyday Joes and Janes, have come together, they have accomplished great things for God.

            Tomorrow, when you begin the week, why not take a moment and ask God, "God, what do you have in mind for me this week?  What do you want me to do for you in the days ahead?" You'll probably abe amazed at the answer.

            Amen.