Friday, March 17, 2017

Israel's Turning Point

  America, as well as other “Christian” nations, seemingly is becoming more and more ungodly by the hour.  Just a quick scan of daily news articles and consideration of current trends will more than support this conclusion.  With that in mind, there is probably no greater book to address this concern than the often dismal but ever important Book of Judges, and a better understanding of its literary structure will assist in unlocking its much needed far-reaching message.  The overall theme of this book is one that every believer needs to consider personally, prayerfully, and carefully.  Of course, that theme is apostasy. 

      The structure of the Book of Judges is amazing.  A careful study will reveal that the judges, in the order of their appearance, are getting further from the truths taught to them in the Word.  An even closer study will reveal that this book is written in a chiastic structure that is meant to call attention to this drift.* When the main judges are charted and compared the pattern becomes obvious and the true message of the entire book becomes clear.  It is not how you start the race that counts, but how well you finish it!  While our performance as believers does not diminish the grace of God, it does injure our witness and effectiveness for the Lord.

     Briefly, a chiasm is an ancient literary device that placed a symmetric pattern into the text.  The purpose was to highlight a specific theme with thematic support before and after.  This device is very common and is found in the New Testament as well (As an example, the entire Book of Revelation is presented in a chiastic structure).  Patterns of this sort revolve around a center point, a point of reflection, and the life of Gideon is the point of reflection in Judges.  Every judge before Gideon has predominately positive characteristics while those following him are mostly negative.  In future articles these comparisons will be shown and many of the judges will be compared and contrasted as the text calls for.

     Before we go on, the word apostasy tends to be a controversial word the moment it is mentioned.  This is not going to be a series on all of the theological arguments and implications this word evokes.  The purpose is to see what we servants of Christ can do to bring much needed change to our society given that we are clearly at a crucial time when righteousness is mocked but godlessness is praised.  Are there areas in our lives where we can deepen our commitment at the foot of the cross and receive grace to end well in this time of cataclysmic moral need? We, the church, must be shrewd and not feud as it is certain that if it is rude, nude, crude, or lewd, today, it is now glorified in our nation and on our watch. It seems that sin and wickedness have poisoned the very soul of our society.  In Christ, the church is the light this lost nation needs—but can we burn brighter and bring greater glory to Jesus?  Again, the Book of Judges can help us rise up to answer these challenges.  We must then consider the example of Gideon.

     It was a grand day as recorded in Judges 6.  In a beautiful Christophany, Jesus visits Gideon and calls him to be a judge in order to answer the cries of His people and bring vital deliverance.  Furthermore, as He calls Gideon to battle God’s enemies, Jesus reveals himself as the “LORD our Peace” even as He is calling Gideon to war (a book could be written here as most of us are very unsettled by the advances of the enemy around us but let's stick to the pattern.  Just remember, Jesus is your peace even though it seems that the earth is being moved and the mountains are being cast into the sea).  Gideon then arises, builds an altar at Ophrah of the Abiezrites, and offers a sacrifice.  He is on the mountaintop spiritually and ready to take on the oppressors.  Rising from the altar of worship he then casts down the nearby altar to the idol Baal which led to a revival in his family.

      Now turn to Judges 8:27.  It is there one reads these terrible words, "And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it..." Where did he fall into idolatry?  The very place he arose in victory was the very place he fell in defeat.  Very soon he was meddling in areas which were forbidden and this assuredly was less than a God honoring witness.


     After Gideon defeats the Midianites and assures his position as a judge of Israel, things were looking up for the Lord’s people.  It truly was a glorious day for Israel.  Well, Almost!  Gideon forgot to call the tribe of Ephraim to battle.  They were not given a chance to be a part of the valiant 300.  It was at this point that the flesh and the adversary took over.  Petty jealousy arose and before you know it the valiant judge of Israel was found “chiding” with other Israelites.  His judgeship went downhill from that very moment, and soon he was in Ophrah where he made the ephod that led many astray.  From this point onward in the Book of Judges there are more frequent arguments that eventually led to armed battles between the clans.  Remember, the tribes were unified in chapter one as they prepared to fight Adonai-Bezek just like the Christian churches across America were mostly gospel preaching entities during the nation’s early years.  However, by the end of the book the sin of sodomy nearly caused the extinction of the tribe of Benjamin—need we consider that comparison to our current circumstances?



     Many start well in their walk with the Lord but the flesh gets in the way and hinders a great testimony.  Rising from the altar in victory they only fall on it continually in defeat while woefully sobbing over their latest episode of outright rebellion.  Bitterness, jealousy, gossip and a whole host of nasty, fleshy sins seem to continually plague them and they never fully allow the image of Christ to be perfected in them.  It is as if they forgot that there is a list of the works of the flesh that are found shortly before the fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians 5.  More time is then spent on arguing and fussing with other believers and less time is spent sharing the truth of the Gospel to those who need Christ before it is too late. Too many constantly find themselves praying the repentant Psalm of David but never find the power of God’s grace that makes them to walk with hind’s feet on high places.  God has better for us all, and His Spirit pleads with us to live a life of surrender to Him.  Is this not the very call of Paul in Romans 12:1-2?  Seeing the overwhelming price Jesus paid for us at Calvary it is more than reasonable that we wholly sell out for Him.
  
     What can we learn from Gideon?  Strive!  Thank God for the great gift of salvation!  Even ol’ Gideon was given a small mention in the Hall of Faith listed in Hebrews 11 even though it does not appear that he finished well.  Yet, it is only a mention of his name among others whose antics often caused a duplicitous witness.  Again, thank God for grace.  Paul, however, had a much different concept of devotion to Christ.  He would follow the Master in a relationship of total surrender.  His life would be devoted to Christ in ways that maybe even made others think he was a fanatic.  Paul teaches that we need to fight a good fight of faith. 

     What will you cast at the feet of Christ?  Will there be many trophies of victories fought and won in, by, and through His presence and power; or will you stand at his throne, glad to be there, but empty handed?  What crowns will you have to toss at His feet in worship, or will there only be a pile of ashes left after the Lord sifts through your works? 

“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”  2 Timothy 2:4
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8




*If you are interested about learning more about chiasms and chiastic structure, I highly suggest the following work as a beginning point:  Dorsey, David A.  The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2004

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