Summary: God's people, throughout history, have often had a tragic cycle of forgetting God and needing God's "sandpaper" to bring them back to God.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I truly enjoy preaching through entire books of the Bible. I know a lot of people believe that this is due to laziness or an unclear sense of what God wants to do in a service (in other words, the pastor doesn’t have to figure out what he or she is going to preach because the texts are already placed before her or him in book form. Yet, there are several reasons why I do so and I think it is good to reiterate them once in a while: 1) preaching through an entire book reaffirms that we believe the entire Bible and that all scripture is suitable for teaching, preaching, planning, counseling, and inspiration; 2) preaching through an entire book means that the pastor isn’t free to ignore difficult or troubling text; 3) preaching through an entire book means that the congregation doesn’t have to worry if the pastor has pulled out a text to meet a particular crisis in the church (like “She just preached that because we’re having money problems!” or “I know he preached that because he’s upset at something I did!”); and 4) preaching through an entire book keeps the pastor from simply preaching her or his favorite sermons over and over again.
The only disadvantages I see to this kind of preaching is when members read ahead, spot a familiar passage, and decide not to come because “Oh, yeah! I got that. I’ve heard that one before!” as well as when people simply want some variety. Well, before you think I’ve gone completely bonkers, I want to share with you that this month’s shift to the strange and peculiar Book of Judges is an intentional diversion. It is an uncomfortable book to preach because of some of the unsavory, bloody stories within it (of which, most people only know about Gideon and Samson). I believe it is still relevant to us as we seek the identity God wants us to have in this church. Indeed, last week we considered the need for more leadership within the church from the sixth chapter of Acts. This week, we are considering the result of the failure to follow God’s leadership and the need for strong leaders in Judges 2. We could have dealt with the immediate aftermath of Joshua’s death in Judges 1, but since we’re only going to be in Judges for the month of August, I wanted to get right to the theme of the book. Judges is about failure, leadership, and restoration. I believe these few messages before we come back to the Book of Acts will challenge you, surprise you, and even make you feel less discouraged about the low attendance numbers you’ve had over the last few years.
Today’s sermon is entitled “Who Ya’ Gonna’ Call?” because I sometimes have the old Ghostbusters theme play on my mental stereo of unreliable memories. I can just imagine Daniel whaling away on that (pardon the expression) haunting bass line while I remember lines like, “When there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood, who ya’ gonna call?” I think that’s a valid question. When things aren’t right, when things don’t add up, when you can’t figure out what you’re going to do, who ya’ gonna’ call? You see, the answer to that question will show you where your priorities are in life. Are ya’ gonna’ call your attorney, your doctor, your professor, your mentor, your shrink, even your pastor, or are ya’ gonna call God? The problems experienced by Israel in this short series of sermons from Judges could have been avoided by calling upon God, but they had other priorities. How about you?
In today’s text, we see the pattern for the first part of the Book of Judges. Let’s start with 2:11-15. I’m going to use Robert G. Boling’s translation from the Anchor Bible today. “Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight and served Baal. 12) They deserted Yahweh, their fathers’ God, who led them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples all around them. They fell prone before them! They vexed Yahweh! 13) They deserted Yahweh and served Baal and Astarte! 14) Yahweh’s wrath blazed against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of plunderers who plundered them. He sold them into the hand of enemies on all sides; they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15) Whenever they ventured forth, Yahweh’s hand was with them—for evil!—exactly as Yahweh had said, exactly as he had assured them on oath. They were besieged!”
There is a definite pattern here and I want to demonstrate it before we get too far in the exposition of the text. First, notice this line about doing evil in God’s sight and serving Baal, the fertility god. It gets echoed very quickly with only slightly different wording in Judges 3:7 and several times with very similar wording in Judges 3:11, 4:1, and 6:1 as this phrase starts off the stories of Ehud, the left-handed judge, Deborah, the female judge, and Gideon, the judge known for his surprise attack. It’s used in the middle of the book (prior to the Ammonite threat) in 10:6 and again before introducing Samson and a major emphasis against the Philistines.