This month we get to begin the book of Judges. In Judges we see the vicious cycle of sin played out in the nation of Israel. Israel turns from God and worships idols. God gives them over to another nation. Israel suffers and turns to God. God raises up a judge to deliver them. As I examine my own life, I see the same sort of pattern. In this world I will sin against God. God gives me over to that sin. I suffer and turn back to God. God delivers me. Throughout my life I find new sins that I didn’t even know about before. Each time I am strengthened as God restores me. Here, I want to look at this cycle. How might God punish us for our sin? How does He restore us and make us stronger?
Judges 3:7-11 (HCSB)
The Israelites did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; they forgot the LORD their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. The LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaimo king of Aram-naharaim and the Israelites served him eight years.
The Israelites cried out to the LORD. So the LORD raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother as a deliverer to save the Israelites. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, and he judged Israel. Othniel went out to battle, and the LORD handed over Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram to him, so that Othniel overpowered him. Then the land was peaceful 40 years, and Othniel son of Kenaz died.
What sin does
For our purpose here, we will define sin according to this passage. Sin is anything that is evil in the Lord’s sight and specifically includes idolatry, or worshipping anything other than God. For the Israelites it was the Baals and the Asherahs. For us, it may be entertainment, celebrities, social media, technology, school, work, human reason, science, athletics or even the news. Worshipping anything other than God is evil in God’s eyes.
God was angry with the Israelites for worshipping the Baals and the Asherahs and as a punishment, God subjected them under the authority of another nation. Through the book of Joshua, we see God give Israel this Promised Land. Thus, the land they were living in was given specifically by God for the purpose of His glory and God retracted His blessing as His people rebelled against Him. We see God doing the same with Adam and Eve who were cast out of the Garden of Eden and even with Lucifer as he was cast down from heaven.
When we sin, we are acting against God and God’s anger burns against all sin. If God does not change, then it is always true that He is angry with sin. This means that when we have created idols in our life, even something as simple as being too busy for God, God is angry with us. Sin makes us enemies of God. Even if we are children of God, we make an enemy of God when we sin.
How God punishes
In Joshua, we read that when the Israelites took the land of Canaan, they did not rid the land of idol worship. Here, when the people turn from God to worship these idols God gives them over to the nations to whom those idols belonged. Now, if God is eternal; if he is consistent in His action and coherent in His thought; if He truly has all knowledge and truly works for our good, then He cannot change. In fact, Malachi 3:6 even states emphatically that God does not change. If His anger toward sin is the same, then the punishment for sin will have the same character now as it did in the Old Testament even if the punishment looks different.
Because we live in an age of grace, Christ has come and suffered the penalty for all sin, punishment may look different, but it still flows from the character of God (which is unchanging). Since God gave the Israelites over to the nations of the false gods they worshipped, we might imagine that God will also give us over to the gods that we worship. Since this punishment applied specifically to Israel, we might also infer that this type of punishment applies specifically to God’s people today. He may deal with unbelievers differently because God’s interaction with unbelievers (or people who do not belong to Him) is not reflected in this particular story. What exactly might it mean that God gives us over to the false god’s that we worship?
Here, I want to use busyness as an example. What I’m not referring to is general busyness; but specifically busyness that keeps us from God. There is nothing wrong with working hard and staying busy, but busyness becomes and idol in our lives when we neglect God or family because we are so busy. Maybe we work so much that we can’t make it to a single church meeting. Maybe we are involved in athletics to such a degree that it steals time we should be spending with our families or with our church body. We spend so much time trying to gain for ourselves that we forsake the needs of others or just don’t have time to pay attention to others. Busyness can so often become an idol in our lives no matter how old or young we are.
Busyness leads to stress because we have to fit everything we are trying to do into a short window of time. If we ever have to say, “There are not enough hours in the day,” we dishonor God because we have simply become too busy. Constant psychological stress has many negative effects on our bodies:
- Chest Pains
- Mental slowness
- Negative attitudes and thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sense of loneliness
- And more.
If we are going to rebel against God by making an idol out of our busyness, then it seems that God will hand us over to these things. How many of us feel overworked in life and suffer from these things even though God has promised to restore us? We might even look to Romans 1:28 where Paul actually writes that God has given some over to their own sexual immorality. We wonder why our spirit is not restored each day; it is because we sin against God. Even if we are saved, God will give us over to the idols we make for ourselves and we will suffer the consequences of having those idols whatever they are.
How God delivers
When the Israelites suffered under other nations and cried out to God, God raised up a judge, Othniel, to deliver them from under the thumb of the other nation. If God does not change, then He will deliver His people today in the same way. When we turn from our sin and to Him, He promises to deliver us from the oppression that the sin brings against us.
If it is the stress that comes with busyness, then, when believers turn back to God and stop making busyness an idol then we will stop suffering under the hand of busyness. I am convinced that the life God desires for us to live is a life of simplicity, where we are focused on few things instead of many. When we live to honor God in this way, busyness becomes less of an issue and causes fewer problems in our lives. Furthermore, we actually will have time to dedicate to the things of God rather than the things of the world. In this life we do not have to make money, earn fame or popularity, be seen and heard, convince the government to make certain decisions, become an all-star basketball player, make it into college or have a formal education because none of these things last forever. It surprises me that we will invest so much time trying to accomplish all of these in one lifetime when they don’t last anyway. The only thing that carries over is our relationship with God. Instead of making idols for ourselves, we should have one goal in life: that is to simply surrender to God and live to honor Him. Everything we do should flow from this alone.
What this means in the age of grace
In this age of grace, then, forgiveness is abundant. God will deliver us when we humble ourselves and turn to Him. For those who do not belong to God, you are bearing the consequences of sin that has already been dealt with in Christ. Sin can no longer keep you from God. Why would we continue to bear the weight of the whole world when Christ offers to deliver us from such a psychological oppression? Eternal life is available and it is a gift and all we need to do is surrender!
For those who do belong to God, it may be the case that we are full of worry. We may have made idols out of our jobs, entertainment, a boyfriend or girlfriend, hot political topics of our day, celebrities, athletics, our own feelings, our preferences or simply busyness. When we make these things idols, we choose to be handed over to the effects of sin rather than live currently in the freedom of Christ. How often do we hear about some famous rich person committing suicide? Then we turn on the television and see a commercial about people living in poverty, going hungry and dealing with disease and see that they are smiling. Why? There is something about simplicity and we shouldn’t fear it. Let us turn from our idols, repent, and follow God to deliverance and to freedom.