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A Promise Compromised

Sermon passage: (Judges 1:22-2:5) Spoken on: January 12, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on Judges 1:26-2:5

The book of Judges records the darkest period of Israel’s history. It records the rise and fall of Israel. It contains many interesting stories about the heroes of Israel. Some stories were heart-warming, while others were controversial. But the name “judge” is not like our judicial judge of today. They were more like religious and political leaders of Israel. They led Israel in their military campaigns and provided spiritual guidance to the people.

Today’s passage follows from Israel’s fight against the remaining Canaanites. It reads like a military campaign report. The Canaanites were more powerful than Israel. They had advanced military technology, iron chariots! Technically, Israel’s foot soldiers were no match for them. But what they lack in technology, they made it up with strategy. And of course, the text tells us from the start that the Lord was with them in their conquest. They needed all the help they could get.

The city walls were high and the gates were well-guarded. A head-on battle would result in an instant defeat. They needed a plan to get in. The story reminds me of the popular TV series: Prison Break, Season 4! The Israelites are trying to break into the Company! When they saw a Luzlite coming out from the city, they managed to strike a deal with him: a way into the city in exchange for his life and his whole family to be spared. Soon, they got in and put the city to the sword and kept their word to this man. The “traitor” then went to the land of the Hittites and built another city by the same name, Luz (which in Hebrew is, Bethel).

They story continues, telling us that five tribes managed to settle in Canaan (Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali); only the tribe of Dan was unsuccessful. They were held back by the Amorites and were confined to the hills. The Canaanites were determined to live in their land and Israel never drove them out completely.

Was Israel’s conquest a success?
Let’s pause for a moment and asked if Israel’s conquest was considered successful? From a military perspective, it seems so. Israel is now living in the Promised Land. But from God’s perspective, Israel has failed. Why? They managed to enter Canaan but they did not drive the Canaanites out from their land as instructed by God. Instead, they co-lived with them. When were these instructions given?

In Num. 33:51-53, God gave specific instructions to Moses for how Israel is to conquer Canaan, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” God gives the land but it is up to Israel to win it. God’s commandments were clear and specific.

Not clear enough? Here’s more from Deut. 7:3-4, “Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”

Israel’s disobedience: A promise compromised
It sounds simple. All they needed to do was to drive the Canaanites out and destroy their false gods. But not only did Israel not drive them out; they kept them as slaves and made treaties with them through inter-marriage. Seven times in these verses these words appear: “did not drive out.” The author makes it very clear that Israel disobeyed God.

And following that in chap. two, we are told that the angel of the Lord spoke to them. This angel is likely to be Yahweh himself in the manifestation of an angel because the message was from God’s perspective. “I brought you out from Egypt,” “I swore to give to your forefathers,” I will never break my covenant with you, etc.” God was disappointed that Israel disobeyed his orders. And now, the tables are turned. God’s promise becomes persecution to Israel. “Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3). For this the people of Israel wept and called this place “Bokim,” which means “weepers” in Hebrew. They offered sacrifices to the Lord. They were in remorse. And for awhile they were good, but not for long; soon, they were back to their old ways. Living like pagans and worshipping other gods.

Why was it important for Israel to drive them out? Wouldn’t co-existence with the enemy be a better plan? After all, are we not taught also to love our enemies? These are tough questions. A simple answer may not be convincing, but the truth is that Israel is God’s chosen people and God did not want them to be corrupted by the wicked Canaanites. Canaan was a society of great wickedness and immorality. They worshipped other gods and the God of Israel did not want His people to be compromised by them. When you are building a nation, sometimes it is necessary to start from a clean slate. Those with experiences in renovating really old homes will understand this. To overhaul an entire house, even though the cost is far more expensive, the work is better. When you ripped out everything that is old and damaged, you will also be getting rid of many pests and parasites that have been living comfortably in your home for years. Remember the movie, Ratatouille? Soon, rats will be cooking a feast in your kitchen!

Israel as God’s holy nation
God in His infinite wisdom is well aware of this. This is precisely why he gave strict instructions in the first place. Instead of building their nation by their own hands, they got the Canaanites to build it for them as their slaves! Israel also did evil in the eyes of the Lord by worshipping foreign gods like the Baals and the Ashtoreths (Judges 2:13) and allow inter-marriage between their children (Judges 3:6). Recalling Pastor’s Siow Hwee’s sermon last week, God’s promise is always paired with human responsibility. In other words, the fulfilment of God’s promise is dependent on the obedience of humans. If we fail to obey God’s word in our lives, we have to bear the responsibility of our failings.

As God’s holy nation, Israel’s main task was to obey God and be holy. And sometimes, it means to do some things which may go against our logical and emotional side. Often, in our Christian journey, we may not understand each and every step our Lord leads us. But this is where trust and faith come into play. Our human weakness tells us that surely there is a better way to deal with these Canaanites. Instead of driving them out, why not use them as slaves? After all, we are promised this new land by God himself, and since He is with us, what have we to fear? And anyway, we need more man-power to build our nation. Hey, I heard the Canaanites are beautiful people! Talk about sleeping with our enemies! Why not arrange for our children to marry their children? In this way, we ensure peace and these Canaanites would not take revenge against us. Sounds like an excellent plan! In fact, during the Middle Ages, this was how many treaties were made in history, between the English, the French, and the Spanish. And after many years of inter-marriage, Israel becomes accustomed to the ways of the Canaanites. They eat their food, they play their games, and they worship their gods. They live like the Canaanites and become like one of them. Israel loses her identity as God’s holy nation. Israel compromised on God’s promise. Because of Israel’s disobedience, God’s promise becomes Israel’s compromise!

Today’s passage is about a promised that was compromised. When we compromise on God’s promise, we settle for the second best. Just take a look at my hair. My wife told me to go to the barber, but I disobeyed her. I tried to cut it on my own. And now, my good look is compromised. Just like Israel, we too are guilty of compromising God’s promises. We may not be sleeping with our enemies, nor using them as our slaves, but we compromise on sin in our lives. In a similar way, God tells us to drive out sin from our lives, but we choose to co-exist with it. We say maybe it’s not that bad, a little sin may add excitement in our mundane life. We think we are in control of sin, we make them our slaves. We think we are the master, but in reality, we are the slaves. The more we compromise, the more we stray from God. I hope that our text today reminds us to stay true to God’s way of life for us. May we learn true obedience. God has already given us His promise; the choice is ours to make. Do we choose to live a life of promise or a life of compromise?

To choose a life of promise is to live in accordance with God’s will. To live as how God intended for us to live, a life that is holy, set apart for God. Christ has paid for our sins. We are God’s people today, and we are to live in all righteousness. Not just to teach about it, or to read about it, but to live Christ in our lives. For “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).” It is time we drive out all the sins in our lives. It is time we claim God’s promise as it was meant to be. Allow me to end with a story – “The Hunter and the Bear”

Winter was coming on and a hunter went out into the forest to shoot a bear out of which he planned to make a warm coat. By and by he saw a bear coming toward him and raised his gun and took aim.
“Wait,” said the bear, “why do you want to shoot me?”
“Because I am cold,” said the hunter.
“But I am hungry,” the bear replied, “so maybe we can reach an agreement.”
In the end, the hunter was well enveloped with the bear’s fur and the bear had eaten his dinner. We always lose out when we try to compromise with sin. It will consume us in the end. Let us pray.