************ Sermon on Judges 7:2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 25, 2005
"Who's In Charge Here, Anyway?"
I saved a humorous story from an old issue of "The Banner" that I used in another sermon. The author told us what happened to him during a hospital stay.
Topic: GodMany of us are prompted to ask the same question as we look at Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the tsunami of SE Asia. "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
Subtopic: Rule of
Title: Who's in charge here, anyway?
My doctor ordered a certain diet for me, but the head nurse decided that a particular exercise program would be better. The assistant assigned to me felt that the exercise program was useless and suggested that I request medication instead. I really wanted the diet, so I went back to the doctor and asked him the question: "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
Every time there has been some kind of disaster since 9/11 I've noticed a form of idolatry. Even many Christians, I have noticed, buy into this idolatry OR let it go unchallenged.
The false god, the idol, that I am talking about is government. Big government and big egos and the people under them forget Who really is in charge. We saw that so clearly with Hurricane Katrina.
What we saw in New Orleans was absolutely pathetic. People expected the government to look after them. Not only did people expect the government to look after them but they expected the government to do so immediately so there was no pain, no suffering, no deprivation on their part. Never mind that Hurricane Katrina was unprecedented in terms of size and strength. Never mind that government – like the humans that run it – is fallen and comes short of the glory of God (don't forget, this is the same entity that looks after Medicare and Social Security). Never mind that government – unlike God – is not all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Never mind that people's expectations were totally unreasonable. People believe the government is in charge and will look after us.
Not only did people expect the government to look after them but some politicians make promises that lead people to expect this. Big Government and big bureaucracy are viewed as the answer to all of life's problems. If there is a problem that needs addressing, pass a bunch of laws, put a government agency in charge, and throw a whole bunch of money at it. The government is in charge and promises to look after us.
Is it little wonder, then, that we saw all those sad and foolish people on TV saying the government let them down. Saying that the government doesn't care for them. Saying that they had been betrayed.
Who is in charge around here? Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the tsunami of SE Asia are all powerful reminders that government is not in charge – in spite of what people expect and politicians promise. The false god of government cannot satisfy in times of plenty or in times of want. And, it is very foolish to even think or say it can.
The book of Judges in general and the story of Gideon in particular tells us God is in charge and His might is made evident in human weakness.
I Man's Weakness
A A quick glance through the book of Judges lays before us the extent and the depth of human weakness and sin. As with today, it is easy to ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
In Israel, if in no other land, it should have been obvious that God is in control. But this was not immediately evident in the lives of His people. Four times in the book of Judges (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) we are told there was no king in Israel. What was the result? Just like we saw in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, each person did as he saw fit. The children of Israel lived like no one was in charge – certainly not the Lord.
Throughout his book the author of Judges lays before us numerous incidents to prove this point. Let me mention just four of them.
First, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, it was Jephthah who was called as judge and leader. Advancing upon the enemy, Jephthah made a very foolish vow to the Lord. He said,
(Judg 11:30-31) "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, (31) whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."Perhaps he was thinking that his dog, or a cat, or a goat would be the first to greet him. Imagine how he felt when it was his daughter who greeted him on his triumphant return from battle. Furthermore, after his victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah was unable, or unwilling, to stop a bloody fight between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites. The hatred between these two clans of Israel became so bitter that a man's life hung on his ability to say a single word. This is how the book of Judges tells the story:
(Judg 12:5-6) The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the men of Gilead asked him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he replied, "No," (6) they said, "All right, say 'Shibboleth.'" If he said, "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. We hear these stories and we ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
Second, the book of Judges also tells us about Micah. Micah stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother. For whatever reason, Micah admitted his guilt and returned the money. In her delight his mother said,
(Judg 17:3) "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you." Imagine that: money consecrated to the Lord used to make a heathen image and an idol god. Heaping sin upon sin, Micah made a priestly garment, an ephod, and installed one of his sons to be his priest at his shrine. In all of this Micah thought he was serving the Lord though his actions were clearly in violation of both the first and second commandments. Again we ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
The third incident concerns the tribe of Dan (Judges 18). This tribe was unable to conquer the portion of Palestine allotted to them by Joshua (Joshua 19:40f). They went outside the boundaries of the Promised Land, destroyed a quiet and unsuspecting city, and moved in. The Danites forsook what the Lord promised them. To make matters worse they set up Micah's image, which they had stolen, as a religious shrine. Who's in charge here, anyway?
Fourth, we are told about a Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). The concubine ran away to her father's house. The Levite persuaded her to return home with him. On the way home they were forced to stop overnight. They had the choice of Gibeah, an Israelite city, and Jebus, a Jebusite city; they decided against the alien city and for the city of the people of God. It turns out this was a bad choice for some of the wicked men of Gibeah surrounded the house the Levite was staying in. They demanded that the Levite come out so they could have homosexual sex with him. To protect himself he gave them his concubine. The men of the city sexually abused her so much that by morning she was dead. When the Levite reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent a part to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The result was war between Israel and the tribe of Benjamin in whose territory was the city of Gibeah. Again we ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
All these stories and more are simply horrifying. They show us and tell us the extent and depth of human weakness and sin. The book of Judges demonstrates the totality of man's weakness. Man is weak and sinful – physically, morally, and spiritually. There is nothing superior or even good that we can say about the men and judges of Israel. So again we ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
B Man's prevailing weakness is especially evident in the story of Gideon. A Midianite army beyond number – probably well over 100,000 men – invades the Promised Land. In contrast, there are only 32,000 men with Gideon. But then the Lord does something surprising. At his command Gideon declares that anyone who dreads the upcoming fight is free to return home. Of course there are men who are afraid; that is nothing unusual. However, the result in this case is totally unexpected: 22,000 men depart, leaving Gideon with only 10,000. The 10,000 however, are still too many as far as the Lord is concerned. So by the Lord's command Gideon orders all of his men to drink. Those who quickly go down on their stomachs to drink are set apart; everyone else goes home. Gideon is left with only 300 men.
We see, then, that by the command and design of God Gideon is left with only 300 men. Why does God do this? He wants Israel to realize something; He wants Israel to realize how powerless and weak and helpless she really is. Israel has no strength of her own. She faces an enemy of superior numbers, superior weapons, and superior armor with a paltry force of 300 men. Israel is supposed to ask, "Who's in charge here, anyway?"
C Those 300 trembling souls creep into battle. Those 300 trembling souls dare to take on all the might of the Midianite army. On their part – and Gideon's too – it is either an act of extreme foolishness or an act of supreme faith in God and His mercies.
You know what happens. At the beginning of the second night watch, Gideon divides his men into three groups. At a given signal they blow their trumpets, break their jars, wave their torches, and shout: "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!" All of the shouting and trumpets gave the Midianites the impression that they are surrounded by a large army; the sound of breaking jars and the sight of waving torches right at the edge of the camp gave them the idea that the destruction of their tents had already started. In their fear and confusion the Midianites unknowingly began to kill each other; in their fear and confusion it was every man for himself; in their fear and confusion each man fled for safety with the Israelites hot in pursuit. By the end of the day the might of Midian was destroyed.
Can Gideon and his 300 men boast that the victory is theirs? Can they boast that it is their skill, their strategy, their tactics that win the day? Can they boast that they are the ones in charge? According to our text, God reduces Israel to that pitiful little band of men that she "may not boast ... that her own strength has saved her." Don't forget, man is weak, so very weak. Physically, morally, and spiritually, there is nothing outstanding about Gideon and his band of men. They don't even have good manners. Their own mothers would be horrified by their behavior. They are picked by the Lord because they lap the water with their tongues like a dog.
D We need to hear this today. So many times we think and act like we are in charge. When we break the atom, fly into space, send probes to Mars, harness the power of rivers, build skyscrapers that tower over the earth, move mountains, and drain lakes it is easy to boast about what we have done. But then the fury of a tornado or hurricane, the devastation of an earthquake or tsunami, and the blow-up of a volcano humble us into realizing and admitting our own weakness.
We think we are in charge of the riches the Lord has poured upon us. We in North America are only 5% of the world's population, yet until about 15 years ago we used 87% of the world's resources. And, we dare to think we deserve this – that somehow and someway we have it coming to us because of our hard work, our intelligence, our faith, and our management. However, when we realize we were responsible for over 90% of the world's garbage, pollution, and toxic wastes, we again come face-to-face with our weakness.
Sometimes we even think we are in charge of salvation and control the spigots of grace. After all, we try to lead a good life, we come to church twice each Sunday, we don't beat our dog or kick our wife or abuse our children, and we drop money each week in the offering plate. We pat ourselves on the back because we are not sinners like murderers and rapists and thieves. We are humbled back into reality when we hear God saying,
(Rom 3:10-12) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
II God's Strength
A If weak, sinful man is not in charge, who is in charge here, anyway? The book of Judges and the story of Gideon teaches us that it is God Who is in charge. In the whole book of Judges there is only one hero – the Lord God Almighty. It is He Who works victory through weak human judges like Gideon, Samson, and Jephthah.
God reduced the size of Gideon's army to 300 men for two reasons: first, so that they would not boast or glory in their own strength; second, so that they would boast and glory only in God and His strength.
B It is evident that Midian's defeat and Israel's victory is solely a work of the Lord. After all, Gideon was reduced to a pitiful army of 300 men. And, it was God Who confused the Midianites so that they fell on and attacked each other. All that the Israelites had to do was pursue an already defeated enemy. The victory was due to the Lord, Who had mercy on His people.
In this light consider the dream Gideon overheard a man tell his friend.
(Judg 7:13-14) Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. "I had a dream," he was saying. "A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed." (14) His friend responded, "This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands." Notice, even the heathen acknowledged that victory is the Lord's. Even a heathen knows that victory comes only from the Lord.
Topic: GodThose could be Gideon's words: "I came; I saw; God conquered." After all, He is the one Who is in charge.
Subtopic: Power of
John III Sobieski, king of Poland in the late 17th century, is best remembered as the man who saved central Europe from invading armies of Turks in 1683. With the Turks at the walls of Vienna, Sobieski led a charge that broke the siege. His rescue of Vienna is considered one of the decisive battles in European history. In announcing his great victory the king paraphrased the famous words of Caesar by saying simply, "I came; I saw; God Conquered."
"Who's in charge here, anyway?" The Christian knows. We believe and confess that our God reigns. Not man! Not the government! We believe and confess that our God holds the whole world in His hands. We believe and confess that He is almighty and supreme and next to Him we are nothing. We believe and confess that the God Who gave victory to a weak and defenseless Gideon is more than able to do the same for us in Christ.
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