Click here for a list of all our sermon series. 查阅我们所有的讲道系列

Who is the History Maker?

Sermon passage: (Judges 1:1-21) Spoken on: January 5, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on Judges 1:1-21

This year, I made a new year resolution. I want to be more honest and authentic than ever before. I want to be more honest with others, but more importantly, I want to be more honest with myself. To be fair, I have never considered myself to be fake or a phony. One look at my simple appearance and you know that I’m too comfortable with my self-esteem to bother putting up a false pretence. Still, I think there are different levels of commitment to being honest, and perfect honesty is not easy because it means being vulnerable. However, authenticity is also a necessary ingredient for any relationship to go further, and that is a no pain no gain deal. I think I am ready to go deeper in the pursuit of better relationships in my life. To be honest with others, with myself and with God, and hence explore the relationships further.

It is with this in mind that I’m happy to start this new sermon series based on the book of Judges. Nothing says “let's be honest and realistic” like Judges. Judges refers to a historical period after the initial conquest of Canaan and before the start of monarchy for the Israelites. It was a time of great chaos where everyone did as he saw fit. Yet at the same time Judges attests to the presence of God and his intervention in history. This is an irreconcilable paradox of reality with God, and I like that because it is brutally honest. As a child, we like to see the world in simplistic terms. The good always win and they live happily ever after. We wish for the same with our understanding of God. God is good all the time and everything will be all right. That is a noble pious declaration indeed. Except, if you are honest with yourself, that’s not the reality we observe is it? Life is complex and life with the existence of God even more so. And herein lies the beauty of Judges. It peels away the sugar-coating of simplistic theology. Its literary style is called juxtaposed perspectives, meaning that theological points, stories, historical facts of differing arguments are placed side by side to reflect the entire reality. I think it is a honest presentation of reality, where what happens in life and how it is interpreted is inconsistent for everybody, but that is fine. We will have ample time to explore all the issues throughout the year, but today I wish to present two viewpoints from today’s passage.

The first point is about divine sovereignty. The bible leaves little doubt that God is in charge in the entire military campaign in Canaan. That is pretty much the entire point in the book of Joshua. Yes, we have a human leader and a very human army fighting against the Canaanites, but who are we kidding if we dare say that the conquests were because of the abilities of the Israelites. From the crossing of river Jordan, to the fall of Jericho, from the hailstorms to the sun standing still, the overwhelming evidence is that God brought the victories to the Israelites. Judges continues this theme from the book of Joshua. Hence we read from today's passage, the Lord pronounced that “I have given the land into their hands”. And it is said that “the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands”. It was the Lord that decided that the tribe of Judah is to lead in the second phase of the conquest, and “the Lord was with the men of Judah”.

A mini-story is juxtaposed with these pronouncements to highlight this point. One of the Canaanite kings, Adoni Bezek was caught and his thumbs and big toes cut off. While that makes for a strange story, the surprising matter is his declaration, “Seventy kings with thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” Here, Adoni Bezek recognized that God is the one that is responsible for his plight. It is not the conquering Israelites. From his words, we are given a huge hint as to why God is making all these happen. It is his judgment upon the Canaanites. Adoni Bezek's confession is a remarkable confession of God's sovereignty. Coincidences does not exist. God is the one that is bringing success to the tribe of Judah, just as he is the one that is making the Canaanites fall.

On the other hand, juxtaposed with this first point of divine sovereignty is the second point about human responsibility. The land is given by the Lord but the Israelites have to fight for their lots. The glaring fact is that each tribe is to fight their own enemies in their allocated part of the land. Humans are responsible for their own final fates. That is the point that is placed paradoxically alongside verses declaring God's sovereignty. Admittedly, God picked Judah to spearhead the second phase of the conquest. But it was human tactic when Judah allied with the tribe of Simeon for their attacks. The tribe of Judah also allied with the Kenites, a group of foreigners who were friendly with the Israelites. Just as they were successful in conquering the hill country, they were equally responsible for their failure on the plains because they could not defeat the iron chariots. A human flaw. At this point, the iron chariots sounds like a valid convenient excuse, until we later read about how the iron chariots of the Sisera and the Philistines were defeated.

Yet another mini-story is juxtaposed with these pronouncements of human responsibility to highlight this second viewpoint. Achsah the daughter of Caleb is given to his nephew Othniel as reward for capturing the city of Debir. You could say that Caleb is exercising great human wisdom here in creating morale for the conquest and finding a worthy son-in-law. What follows however is my favorite part of the story. Achsah the passive recipient of the earlier exchange, now turns proactive in determining her fate. She seductively urged Othniel to ask for a piece of land from her father. Female persuasiveness. When she realized that she is getting a dry region of the Negev, she personally made the trip to ask for yet another favor. Her father responds by giving her not one but two sources of water. Achsah's practical shrewness and resourcefulness in seizing the initiative marks her as a bold petitioner who seeks her own well-being as well as the well-being of her family. In such times where women are mere properties, Achsah fought for her lot in life. She determined her own fate by depending on the grace of her father. On the point of human responsibility, I think there is no more fitting story than this story of this woman dealing intelligently with two macho men.

So which is it in the end? Is it divine sovereignty that dictates the course of history? Or is it humans that are responsible for how things turn out eventually? By western logic, it is quite impossible to reconcile the two. But the honest biblical witness is the paradoxical reality that both God and humans play a part in deciding the future. There is full affirmation of the manifestation of God's will upon the outcome of every event. God is present and God judges. Adoni Bezek acknowledges that it is God that is deciding his fate. On the other hand, humans can be active in their decisions. They each must fight their own battles and achieve their given lot in life. Achsah overcomes her female vulnerability and negotiates her future with great ability. These two viewpoints are juxtaposed in the opening passage of Judges that we see today.

I'll be honest here. I cannot fully reconcile the conflicting logic in these two viewpoints, and my personal resolution so far is that since the bible is perfectly fine with stating both as the truth, I respect the reality as it is presented. Frankly, what I am more interested is the implication of such a worldview. We can believe that God is fully in charge. But that in no way means that we are a passive partner in history making. Just like in the time of Judges, God has given the land, but we have to fight for our lot. I trust and rely on God completely in revealing his will. But I am a dynamic creator in actualizing the fullness of that will. I fight hard as God wills it so. Let this be your take home message for today: God gives the Land, I take my Lot.

Since this is the beginning of a new year, I also have a sincere wish for the bilingual service congregation. Take responsibility in your participation here. Prepare your hearts before coming, read-up Judges, be punctual and worship in the Spirit and the truth. You will experience God in his full blessing every time.