6Once again the people of Israel committed evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sihon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines. In this way they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.
7So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8who shattered and crushed the people of Israel that year.
For the next eighteen years, the Ammonites oppressed all the people of Israel who were in the territory east of the Jordan, in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9When the Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to wage war against Judah and Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, Israel suffered great distress.
10Finally the people of Israel called out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, for we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”
11At this, the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from Egypt, from the Amorites, from the Ammonites, and from the Philistines? 12When the Sidonians and Amalek and Maon oppressed you, and you called out to me, I delivered you from their hands. 13It is you who have forsaken me and served other gods. Therefore, I will no longer deliver you. 14Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen! Let them deliver you in the time of your distress!”
15But the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever seems good in your eyes, but please save us today.” 16When they removed the foreign gods from their midst and served the Lord, he could no longer refrain from relieving the misery of Israel.
“I wish I had more patience.” I’m sure you’ve said that before. If you’re married, you’d said it a lot. If you’re a parent, you’ve said it a lot. If you work with kids, you’d said it a lot. Come to think of it, if you interact with other people-period!, you’ve probably said it a lot: “I wish I had more patience.” It can be hard to be patient with others, especially when those others make the same mistakes or create the same problems over and over and over again. The Word of God that’s open before us this morning from the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 10, reminds us that our God is a very patient God. Patience is one of the characteristics which defines our God. But there does come an end to his patience. In fact, as this portion of Scripture will demonstrate, God gets impatient, and sometimes God’s impatience is a beautiful, unexpected thing.
So, the Old Testament book of Judges was written during the time when God sent…well…judges to the people of Israel. Ingenious name for the book, right? The time of the judges in Israel followed right on the heels of Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God gave the Israelites victory over their enemies. They took possession of the Promised Land. They settled in the land. They had relative peace in the land. But then Joshua died, that generation of Israelites died, and a new generation of Israelites rose up in Israel who did not keep their focus on the Lord or trust his promises or follow his ways.
And during this time period-and we’re talking about a time period which roughly spans from about 1300 B.C. to 1050 B.C.-during this time period there came an unfortunate pattern of behavior-a circular pattern of behavior and events which repeated itself again and again and again. And that pattern of behavior and events looked like this: first, the people of Israel would grow spiritually complacent. They lost sight of the Lord, they weren’t grateful for this blessings, and they longed to look and act like the world around them. And that’s when they would begin to worship the false gods of the people around them-peoples around them, mind you, which the Israelites defeated by the Lord’s miraculous hand and might. The Israelites would worship the false gods of other nations. And that’s when the Lord would send a chastisement upon the Israelites. The Lord would send one of Israel’s enemies to oppress the Israelites. And when the Israelites’ oppression grew to be more than they could handle, they would cry out to the Lord for mercy. And in his mercy, God would deliver the Israelites. And the Lord delivered the Israelites by sending a Judge to Israel who would deliver the Israelites from the hands of their enemies. In fact, maybe a clearer way to describe who the Old Testament Judges of Israel were would be to describe them as “deliverers.” Probably the most well known of all those Judges of Israel was the strong man Samson. And when the Lord sent the deliverer-judge to Israel, order was restored in the land, peace would prevail, the Israelites would enjoy that peace for a time, but then they would grow complacent and ungrateful for their deliverance and then they would fall into sin and the worship of false gods and then the entire pattern would repeat itself. Over and over again that unfortunate pattern repeated itself in Israel during the time of the Judges.
Well, the lesson in front of us this morning, from Judges 10, falls squarely in the middle of this period of the judges. God had already sent at least six judges to deliver Israel after a time of their rebellion and waywardness-the unfortunate cycle just outlined happening at least six times already. And then, the cycle repeated itself again. It says, “Once again the people of Israel committed evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served Baals and Ashtartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines. In this way they forsook the LORD and did not serve him.” Perhaps one of the things which made this cycle of rebellion and apostacy especially heinous is that it involved Israel worshipping multiple false gods from the pagan nations around them at the same time. And the way these gods were often worshipped! For instance, Ashtar? She was the Canaanite goddess of love and fertility. You can imagine what worship rites for a goddess of fertility involved. These were rebellious and disgusting things that the Israelites were doing. And we might be tempted to wonder how they could possibly do thing so rebellious and so disgusting…until you admit the kind of evil which exists in your own heart. Because we know what it is to worship false gods of lust and illicit sex, and false gods of money and materialism. Things that we chase after and from which we seek relief. We know what it is to erect false gods which lower the true God’s place in our lives.
We’ve rebelled against our heavenly Father by those sins. Israel rebelled against their heavenly Father with their sins of idolatry. And what do good parents do when they see their children caught in a sinful, destructive behavior? They discipline their children, right? If you’re kids are young, there’s maybe a timeout or a spanking. If you’re kids are older, there’s a loss of privileges. What you don’t do as a parent when you see your kids sinning and engaging in destructive behavior is ignore it. You don’t blow it off, right? Because that’s indifference to your children, and indifference shows a lack of love and concern for children. Some people think that hate is the opposite of love, and it is in a certain respect. But in another respect, indifference is the opposite of love.
So what did our perfectly loving heavenly Father do when he saw the Israelites rebel against him? He disciplined them. Because he cared enough about them to discipline them. Our lesson goes on, “So the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, who shattered and crushed the people of Israel that year. For the next eighteen years, the Ammonites oppressed all the people of Israel….Israel suffered great distress.” The Lord sent enemies from two directions, the Ammonites from the east, and the Philistines from the west, against the Israelites.
That’s when Israel cried out to the Lord. They said, “We’ve sinned against you, for we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” And what God said next is actually very logical. When you think about it, it’s exactly what you’d expect God to say. It says, “At this, the LORD said to the people of Israel, ‘Did I not deliver you from Egypt, from the Amorites, from the Ammonites, and from the Philistines? 12When the Sidonians and Amalek and Maon oppressed you, and you called out to me, I delivered you from their hands. 13It is you who have forsaken me and served other gods. Therefore, I will no longer deliver you. 14Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen! Let them deliver you in the time of your distress!”
When you think about what Israel was doing, and how many times they’d done it before, you get why I say that God’s reaction is logical and expected, right? My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to consider this long and hard this morning. Does God lose his patience? Does God eventually lose patience with the offender who repeatedly commits the same offenses purposefully over and over again? Does God eventually lose his patience with the person who willfully and defiantly shakes his or her fist in his face by willfully and defiantly going against his will and ways? Yes. And that means God could lose his patience with us, if we willfully and defiantly go against his will and ways. We can so easily fall into this trap of thinking, “There’s nothing that I could do to lose my standing as God’s child.” Sure there is. The Lord is the God of great patience. But if we deliberately and repeatedly defy him, God’s patience can run out. God does get impatient. And eventually he will say what he said to the Israelites here: “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen! Let them deliver you in the time of your distress!” That’s a pretty scary thing to hear God say, isn’t it? It’s the scariest thing you could possibly hear God say, if he were to say to you, “Fine then. Trust in the own gods which you’ve raised up in your life. Look to them. Go your own way.”
And do you know what effect that message had on these Israelites? It brought them to their knees. Is brought about consciences which were troubled by their rebellion and idolatry. It brought about a confession of their sins. It says, “But the people of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever seems good in your eyes, but please save us today.’ (Then) they removed their foreign gods from their midst and served the LORD.”
It’s a good thing to be vulnerable in front of God. That’s what Israel did here. What they did was repent. It was no outward show. It was sincere repentance which flowed from inside of them out into their lives. They admitted they’d sinned. They accepted whatever consequences would come, because they deserved those consequences. And, most importantly, they sent up a vulnerable and humble plea of deliverance to the Lord.
And that’s when something incredible happened. Something unexpected. God lost his patience. God got impatient with the Israelites. Wow. And I know what some of you are thinking right now. “Hey, reverend. I think you missed it. You better read the story again.” But follow me here. Look carefully at what it actually says in that last verse, and you’ll see what I mean. Because the way it’s worded reveals something incredible about the heart of our God. The Israelites had just repented of their grievous sins. And then it says, “When (the Israelites) removed the foreign gods from their midst and served the LORD, he could no longer refrain from relieving the misery of Israel.” Do you see it now? God got impatient. The Lord couldn’t bear what he was seeing. What he was seeing was his people suffering. And he couldn’t stand it anymore. So he lost his patience-in a good way, in an amazing way. He delivered his people. He sent a Judge-another Judge. After he’d already sent a half a dozen, he sent a judge-deliverer named Jephthah to help his people. Because he’s the God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
See, this is the thing about our God. He can’t bear to watch us in our misery. He can’t stand to see us in desperate need, especially when it comes to our spiritual and eternal welfare. It drives him to act on behalf of the people he loves. And that’s the part of this story in Judges 10 and the part of our story in our lives that is completely unexpected and really inexplicable. That God would have such mercy on rebellious sinners like us. He just can’t help but jump into the fray and deliver us.
In fact, there’s only one time I can think of when our heavenly Father hear a cry for help from one of his dear children and he didn’t get mercifully impatient and jump into the fray to help. It happened on Good Friday. Our heavenly Father’s dear Son was hanging on a cross. He was being tortured to death. And that was just the physical pain. Jesus was also bearing the spiritual and eternal pains of hell for us on that cross. The Father’s wrath over our sins placed on him. And when Jesus cried out in confusion, looking for help-“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”- our heavenly Father didn’t rush in to deliver him. He didn’t get impatient to save his Son. He let Jesus suffer the full wrath of our sins.
That’s the kind of love and mercy the Lord has for us. And that is something that I’ll never be able to understand, and neither will you. It’s simply beyond us, beyond our understanding. All we can do is thank and praise God for love like that, all we can do is serve and obey him. Thank God that he is so patient with us in our sins. Thank God that he is so impatient to deliver and save us. Amen.