Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 13, 2010

Sermon on Judges 10:6-16

THE PATIENCE OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER

  1. How terrible to test his patience
  2. How gracious to experience his patience

Text: Judges 10:6-16

Introduction

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: Don’t do that!”  If the parents among us this morning have not said that, they have certainly thought that.  Parenting is often an exercise in patience.  Sometimes you feel like your message goes in one ear and out the other.  Sometimes it seems that your children do the same thing over and over and over again.  It doesn’t seem to matter how frequently you tell them that what they are doing is wrong; they still do it!  Parenting is unquestionably an exercise in patience!

One term Scripture uses to refer to God is our “Father.”  The Bible describes our relationship to God in terms of a child and parent.  Since that is the case, it should not surprise us that we try God’s patience just as much as children test their parents’ patience.  That reality will become abundantly clear as we study the First Lesson for today’s service.  Our reading from Judges chapter ten reveals the patience of our heavenly Father.  Our meditation today will show us how terrible it is to test his patience, but how gracious it is to experience his patience.

I.

Let’s set the background for our reading.  The nation of Israel escaped from Egypt, fulfilled its 40 years of wandering in the desert, and now occupies the land God personally promised to Abraham, the nation’s forefather.  Moses led the people through the desert, Joshua led them into the Promised Land, and now the book of Judges takes us to the years after Joshua’s leadership.  The book of Judges roughly covers 1350 to 1050 B.C.

Charts from The People’s Bible: Judges, Ruth by John C. Lawrenz

You have heard the saying, “History repeats itself.”  The book of Judges is evidence of that old adage.  There is a repeating historical cycle among the Israelites during these years.  The people enjoy a period of rest and national peace.  But after some time, they forget the blessings God has given them and fall into apostasy.  They turn away from the true God and worship the false gods of the heathen nations around them.  God calls them to repentance by allowing other nations to oppress Israel.  Finally, they repent, turn back to God, and he delivers them from their enemies.  That cycle occurs several times in Judges.  At the time of our First Lesson in chapter ten, that cycle has been recorded five previous times. 

The apostasy in Israel was bad.  Years earlier, God told them to exterminate the pagan nations in the Promised Land.  Unfortunately, they did not fully carry out God’s command.  Now the sinful influences they failed to exterminate were getting the best of them.  Not only did they stop following the Lord, but they began to follow seven other gods, representing the gods of all the nations that surrounded them.  Some of the gods listed were the fertility gods of the Canaanites, and you can imagine what worshipping those gods looked like.

Joshua-Judges map from Logos Bible Software

The apostasy in Israel was bad.  But their oppression was even worse.  God “sold” them (verse 7) into the hands of not one, but two attacking nations.  The nation of Ammon attacked them from the east, and the nation of Philistia, along the Mediterranean Sea, attacked them from the west.  Besides overtaking the tribes on the east side of the Jordan River, the Ammonites continued to attack and plague the tribes on the west side of the Jordan for eighteen years.  That’s what it took for Israel to finally “cry uncle.”  “The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.  Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.’”

The apostasy in Israel was bad.  Their oppression was even worse.  But God’s response to their cries for help—that was worst of all!  They had tested his patience long enough!  “The Lord replied, ‘When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the [Midianites] oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen.  Let them save you when you are in trouble!’”  On seven previous occasions—even more than the ones selected and recorded to this point in Judges—God bailed them out of the messes they had created.  Now the patience of their heavenly Father had run out!  How chilling to hear God say something that almost sounds unthinkable: “I will no longer save you.”  How terrible!  How terrible to test the patience of God!  They discovered firsthand that his patience for their pathetic pagan flirtations had expired.

Do you think God gets impatient with people today?  Do you think God loses his patience with the repeat sex offender who is released, only to commit the same crimes again and even more?  Do you think God gets tired of the unending drumbeat of gay marriage advocates, who never seem to stop until they get every last person in society to condone their behavior?  Do you think God loses his patience with scam artists who bleed cash-strapped senior citizens of the hard-earned money they have to survive on?  Do you think God gets tired of the pocket-lining politicians who are more concerned with their reelection to power than using their power to serve the people who elected them in the first place?

Do you think God gets impatient with us?  Do you think God loses his patience with the unchristian, back biting gossip that buzzes through our churches?  Do you think God gets tired of the constant criticism we unleash at others while we hold ourselves to a different standard?  Do you think God’s patience runs dry when he sees you clutching to that particular pet sin again and again and again, that sin that you think that no one else knows but you—as if we can hide our guilt from an all-knowing God?  Do we assume, like ancient Israel, that God’s patience will never run out?  Do we excuse ourselves because we know that after the uncomfortable law, the gospel will come next, and then we’ll all “live happily ever after”—as if the gospel is an excuse for unrepentant sin?  Do we ignore the warnings of Bible verses like Hebrews 10:26: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

If we assume, like ancient Israel, that God’s patience will never run out, then we are playing with fire!  He finally told Israel, “Have it your way!”  Will the time come when he finally tells us, “Have it your way!  You want to play with fire?  You can live in it for eternity!”

II.

I’m not convinced that Israel was repentant the first time they turned to God and asked for his help.  We don’t know how God communicated his answer to them, but I personally believe that when they finally realized that they had worn out God’s patience, their repentance went from outward show to inward sincerity.  “The Israelites said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned.  Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’  Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord.”  I think they were repentant this time because of what they said:  They called their actions sin, they accepted whatever consequences God would give them, and they pleaded for his deliverance with humility.  I also think they were repentant because of what they did:  The idols and false gods were gone from them; worshipping the Lord returned among them.

Then comes the most unexpected statement in this chapter: “[The Lord] could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”  There’s a part of me that reads that and thinks, “What?!?”  They had insulted God six ways to Sunday with their idolatry.  His patience with them had long run out.  And now, after all that, “He could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”  They didn’t deserve that!  They deserved to take a long walk off a short pier.  But that’s the point!

An artist's picture of selected Judges

At some point in your Christian training, you learned a term that means the undeserved love of God.  That word is “grace.”  The fact that God would even listen to their second plea for help was an act of grace.  But the fact that his impatience with them changed into impatience over their suffering was an act of grace times ten thousand!  How gracious of him to set his impatience aside and answer their plea!  How gracious that God raised up another new Judge, the quasi-political figures ruling Israel at this time who led Israel’s armies into battle against their enemies!  How gracious to experience God’s patience!

The Gospel for today (Luke 15:1-3,11-32) is Jesus’ parable of the lost son.  Sometimes this is called the parable of the prodigal son.  The adjective “prodigal” refers to something that is wastefully extravagant or a person who recklessly spends his wealth.  When the son left his father’s house at the beginning of the parable, he certainly fit the description, “prodigal.”  But doesn’t that word also describe the father?  His son walks away with half the estate, spends it on sex, drugs, and rock and roll—at it were—and has nothing but rags to show for it.  And when he returns in his sorry state, what does the father do?  He throws a party!  He adorns his wayward son in the best attire and serves a prime rib dinner for everyone, not because he has turned into some great business success story, but because he wants to be back under daddy’s care!  Sounds awfully prodigal to me!

That is such a beautiful reflection of our heavenly Father’s patience.  He could not bear to leave his wayward people in Israel alone.  And he cannot bear to leave us, his wayward people today, alone either.  He hears our cries to be saved from our spiritual enemies.  He hears our plea to be rescued from the sin that tries to drag our souls into hell.  And even though he would have every right to say, “My patience has run out,” he sees our situation and becomes impatient with the way sin and Satan oppress our souls.  And so he personally intervened for us—not by sending a Judge, but by sending Jesus.

When we were attacked on all sides by Satan’s accusations, when we were cornered in every direction by sin’s delusions, Jesus interceded for us, entered into our world, and battled sin and Satan on our behalf.  Jesus’ battle would take him from the temptations of the desert to the torture of the cross.  But there at the cross, our sin is erased!  There at the cross, the Father’s impatience over our sin and justice because of our sin is satisfied.  There at the cross our spiritual enemies were resoundingly defeated!  There at the cross, Jesus’ blood removes our sin and restores the gracious patience of God who went to such great lengths to love you and save you.  How gracious to experience our heavenly Father’s patience!  His patience is entirely undeserved.  But his patience is incredibly tremendous!  And that leaves us incredibly grateful!

Conclusion

Parenting is an exercise in patience.  Sometimes it seems like you deal with the same excuses, the same problems, and the same disobedience over and over again.  But as your children grow, perhaps you see your patient parenting finally pay off as they mature.  That’s certainly what you hope to see.

Parenting is an exercise in patience, but not even the most patient parent among us can compare to the patience of our heavenly Father.  His patience extends far longer than we deserve.  His patience graciously returns when we turn to him in repentance.  His patience perseveres to keep us in the true faith.  And one day his patience toward us will pay off major dividends—not with profits for him, but with blessings for us, blessings that will literally last forever!  Amen.

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