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Summary: This is an intro to the series on Judges and sets the stage and context for the following sermons on Gideon and Samson. You could say that the theme of this sermon is "What went wrong?"

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WHEN FAITH COMPROMISES WITH CULTURE

Culture has a very powerful influence in our lives. What our culture dictates we often follow along with. If our culture says it is okay, then it must be okay. In some circles of church community smoking was considered a sinful practice. Now our culture says it is an unhealthy practice which can kill you, so thousands are trying to quit smoking.

Culture and faith vie for the place of authority in our lives whereby one or the other can dictate how we live. Culture is not evil; culture is what defines a people; culture is a good thing. It is when culture takes the place of authority in the life of Christians over and against faith that there is a clash.

The Apostle Paul charged the Philippians with this mandate: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…” (Phil 2:14-15).

That describes our own situation very well. The challenge of these words is threefold: our heart attitudes are revealed in our actions, so be careful how you live out your faith; second, this life is to be lived out in a crooked and perverse generation, one of such moral decay that it can’t get any worse; and third, we are to live a quality of life that we shine in the darkness like stars in the heavens.

The problem is that when everyone is following the same path to depravity, when culture dictates what’s okay and what’s not in opposition to our faith, we can easily lose heart. When no one’s trying to be holy, why be holy?

This is the story of the book of Judges. And it is our story, our generation, and our challenge. Where do we find real strength when our hearts have grown faint?

Our introduction to the book of Judges today sets the stage for our series on Real Strength and how God uses weak people to do his will. Let’s explore this story together.

1. “Choose for yourselves this day…”

The book of Judges begins with these telling words, “After the death of Joshua…” This is a critical turning point for the people of Israel. Place this in the context of Israel’s history: God promises to give Abraham many descendents, a land and to be his God; these offspring of Abraham grow into a nation but under Egyptian slavery; after 400 years Moses leads the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land; Joshua is the military leader who leads the invasion into Canaan. Now Joshua, the last figurehead of authority in Israel, is dead.

It is this Joshua who brings the people together at the conclusion of the book bearing his name, and says “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” Are you going to serve the idols of the popular culture around you, or are you going to serve Yahweh, the LORD God? Joshua then famously declares, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Enthusiastically the people respond that they will serve the LORD. Joshua replies that they should remember that God is a jealous God and will not tolerate them chasing after idols, if they so choose.

What happens when an authority figure exits the stage? Often the rules get slackened and the people drift from the truth. With authority figures like Moses and Joshua gone, the people began to disobey God and sinned with idol worship.

This is where we find the situation in Judges 2. We read a very odd little piece here: “The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim…” This is a monumental transition. What is significant about this? Moses and Joshua may be gone but in their midst seems to have been the presence of the angel of the LORD. This is not just any angel, but a human manifestation of God. Many believe that it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who dwelled in their presence.

He goes up from Gilgal to Bokim. So what? Well Gilgal was the place where the people of Israel renewed the practice of circumcision and committed themselves to the LORD after having crossed the Jordan (Joshua 5). Gilgal was a place of victory and obedience. But something happened since then…the people sinned. So the angel of the LORD left Gilgal and went to Bokim, the place of weeping.

And yet, in this rebuke, the angel of the LORD reminds them of his perfect promises. He said, “I will never break my covenant with you” (2:1). A covenant is a two-sided arrangement. Each side vows to keep their promise no matter what. God is perfect and so he cannot go against his own character and break a promise. But the other party, the people of Israel did break their vow to God. Still God keeps his end of the agreement and will do so forever. But there are consequences for the people because they have sinned. The LORD says in v. 3 that he will not drive the enemies of Israel out but will leave them in the Promised Land to test them and pester them.

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