Friday, January 8, 2010

Faithfully Turned Over & Overwhelmed

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord turned them over to Midian for several years. The Midianites overwhelmed Israel. – Judges 6:1-2a (NET)

Above all else, the Word of God, the Bible, is the record of our God’s covenant faithfulness. That is, it serves as a constant reminder and evidence of the fact of His faithfulness, of His faithfulness to His covenant, of His faithfulness to His covenant people, and of His faithfulness to His covenant promises. Though we tend to miss this at first glance, even what we find in this verse is the evidence of His faithfulness.

What are we to understand when we read that “The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight”? As we look through the book of Judges, we find a representative example that “The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals. They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors Who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They followed other gods… They worshiped them and made the Lord angry. They abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (2:11-13). This made the Lord “furious with Israel” (2:14a). We also find that “they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them” (2:17b). It is said that “When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one. They would follow after other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them” (2:19a). To drive the point home further, the writer repeats himself, saying “The Lord was furious with Israel” (2:20a). What was the basis for the fury? Naturally, it was the idolatry, but more specifically, it was because “This nation has violated the terms of the agreement I made with their ancestors by disobeying Me” (2:20b). We can take these words from the second chapter, safely apply them to the sixth chapter, surmise that Israel’s doing of evil was something along these lines, and rightly understand the coming execution of the Lord’s fury.

Now, when we read about terms of agreement with ancestors, in conjunction with references to being brought out of the land of Egypt, we should be mindful of what it was that God demanded of His people Israel following that Exodus. In the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus (26:1-2), we find God insisting that His people refrain from idolatry, that they keep His Sabbaths, and that they reverence His sanctuary (the place of His presence). If they were to have success in these areas, then they would experience the blessings that we find outlined in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy. On the other hand, failure in these areas would bring the curses that are to be found in the same chapter.

How does that relate to our text? Having done evil, the Lord faithfully turned them over to Midian. Faithfully? Yes, for God is faithful to His promises. If He was not, and if we could not find the record of this faithfulness, then He would not be a God that was worthy of trust. The thread of God’s faithfulness---the controlling narrative of His covenants that runs all the way through the Scriptures---is what makes the Bible so thoroughly amazing! Through Moses, God warned His people, saying “if you ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all His commandments and statutes I am giving you today, then all these curses will come upon you in full force” (28:15). Moses begins outlining curses and comes to the point where he says, “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies” (28:25a), which sounds suspiciously like being turned over to and overwhelmed by Midian. With our return here to Judges, we read that “Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites… would attack them. They invaded the land and devoured its crops… They left nothing for the Israelites to eat, and they took away the sheep, oxen, and donkeys. When they invaded… they were as thick as locusts… They came to devour the land” (6:3-5). Looking back to Deuteronomy, what do we find? “You will plant a vineyard but not even begin to use it. Your ox will be slaughtered before your very eyes but you will not eat of it. Your donkey will be stolen from you as you watch and will not be returned to you. Your flock of sheep will be given to your enemies and there will be no one to save you” (28:30b-31). We read that their invaders were as thick as locusts that devour the land, and in Deuteronomy, we find that “You will take much seed to the field but gather little harvest, because locusts will consume it” (28:38). Clearly, the author of Judges well understood the terms of God’s covenant, along with His blessings and curses.

Yes, God will fulfill His promises. His faithfulness is not limited to doing only what His chosen, covenant people will view and agree upon as good (blessings), though all things to which God subjects His people (even His curses) are ultimately for the working of His good.

The words of this message are not offered as a warning, but rather, as a reminder of the steadfast, promise giving and promise fulfilling nature of our God. Though we can read about His people suffering for their failure to perform as God would have had them perform in accordance with His covenant with them, and though we can read about the curses that could and would come upon His people as a result of those failures, and though we can certainly accept them as warnings about the wrath of our God in response to sin (word and deed not in keeping with His covenant), we are best served by letting these things remind us of the steadfast love and faithfulness of the God that reached out and chose a people for Himself---a renewed Israel---to gift them with faith for belief that would bring them the salvation of eternal life.

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