The Kindness and Severity of God

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Introduction

In order to relate correctly to someone, you need to know who they are! Shortly after I got married, I was enjoying a day out with my wife's family. As we walked in single file along a lake in Yorkshire, I went to give my wife a "very friendly" cuddle. Unfortunately I got a bit of a shock when I realised that the lady walking in front of me was not my wife, but my sister-in-law! Fortunately, she had a good sense of humour but I learned the lesson that in order to relate correctly to someone you need to know who they are. You also need to know what they are like. One of the first meals I cooked for my wife when we started going out was a beautiful steak with chips and salad. If I'd know her a bit better I would have realised she didn't eat meat.

It is the same with God. To relate to him correctly we need to know who he is and what he is like. In my examples I was merely embarrassed, however, relating to God correctly is much more important as our lives depend on it. That's why our new series in the second half of the book of Judges is so important.

For your information you can look up the sermons from the first half of the book on our website www.church.org.uk

To place this series in context, the book of Judges covers the history of the people of Israel roughly 1200-1000BC. It starts after death of Joshua and the settling in the land of Israel until the choosing of a King.

Judges is called a history book, but it's more accurately a prophetic book – it describes events that actually happened in history but also gives explanation of what has happened from God's point of view. As we go through the series looking at this Jewish history remember that our aim is to hear God teaching us about himself so that we can learn to relate to him correctly.

As we're starting at chapter 10 let me give you a brief summary of what has happened so far in the book. We see a repeating pattern that goes like this;

A) The people turn away from God so he punishes them using their enemies
B) From the mess they cry out to God for help
C) God helps them by sending a judge (the word also means saviour) who helps bring them
D) peace from their enemies.

This cycle repeats but each time the situation gets worse and worse, so we see a downward spiral that continues until Israel chooses a king.

The prophet Samuel gives a great summary of the book of Judges in 1 Samuel 12:9-11, just before they appoint King Saul. Let me read it to you and you'll be able to see the pattern of the book:-


[A] 9"But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them.
[B] 10They cried out to the LORD and said, 'We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.'
[C] 11Then the LORD sent Gideon, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies on every side, so that
[D] you lived securely.
Please turn with me in your Bible to Judges 10. And we'll see what God is teaching us about himself under 3 headings

1. A God who is Jealous and Angry
2. A God who says "No"
3. A God who helps those who do not deserve it


1) A God who is Jealous and Angry (v6-9)

Jealous and angry. Are they words that you would use to describe God? If not, you may be surprised by this passage as God wants us to see that he is a God who is jealous and angry. Look at v6-9:

6Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, 7he became angry with them.
He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.

Israelites were supposed to be God's people; after all, he had rescued them when they were slaves in Egypt and formed them into a nation, complete with their own land. However, again they messed up – we read in v6 that they 'did evil in the eyes of the Lord'. Only this time they were much worse as they stopped serving the LORD and worshipped the false gods of the peoples around them. We see the list– 7 gods in total - in v6. This isn't a small indiscretion. This is a shameful betrayal and clear turning away from the God that had saved them time and time again.

V7 may surprise us. It shows that God reacts with jealous anger. It is not like human jealousy or anger which is so often sinful. He is right to be angry because he is not worshipped as he deserves and the results are extremely serious with severe consequences. He gives Israel's enemies – the Philistines and the Ammonites - permission to attack and terrorise them. This continues for 18 long, terrible years.

So, what is God teaching us about Himself? God is jealous and angry when his people serve false gods instead of him - this is still true today.

Serving false gods is the spiritual equivalent of adultery and is called idolatry. The idea of idols may seem weird to us making us think of little wooden statues and incense sticks etc. For example, the god of the Ammonites mentioned in v6 was Molech and worshipping him involved killing children. Our issue may not be serving Molech, but we are still guilty of idolatry. We need to recognise what our own idols are.

We depend on idols to give us what we want – to be all that God is – in control of our lives and powerful. We look for fulfilment in things around us, wanting to be served, live in comfort and worshipped by those close to us. Our idols are the things we depend on or trust in to give us this.

It follows therefore that idols aren't always things that are inherently bad. However, if we rely on these things for fulfilment or to try and take control of our lives, rather than trusting God, they become idols. For example money, cars or houses can be a way to gain god-like power. Our career, education or our success in areas such as sports can be a way to gain god-like control in our lives. Our family or our friends or our boyfriend or girlfriend may be how we seek god-like fulfilment or acceptance. Or sex, drugs, TV can be what we depend on for comfort and god-like freedom from responsibility, suffering and stress.

By following after things other than God for fulfilment, control or power we reject God as rightful ruler of our lives and we turn our dependence from Him onto other things. This makes God both angry and jealous, resulting in God's punishment – in this world as we face the consequences of living a life our own way and after we die. God has not changed from the Old Testament and his anger is the same today as it was for the Israelites.
Sin was, and is, taken so seriously by God that it angers him and unless we take it seriously, we will try to treat God as a useful friend, forgetting he deserves our worship and forgetting that he is a God who is jealous and angry.

Jesus is God and so he showed us the same thing. Throughout his life, he taught that we have turned away from God, are spiritually dead and belong to the devil. We are taught that this leads to eternal punishment and no one in the Bible spoke more often, or more frightfully, about hell than Jesus.


2) A God who says "No" (v10-14)

Imagine saying to God, "I'm sorry. I have done wrong and I'm in trouble. Please forgive me and save me." What would you think if he said: "Go away. I will no longer save you". If you cannot imagine God saying this, what you read in this passage will surprise you as God wants you to see that he is a God who says no. Look at v10-14:

10Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baal's." 11The LORD replied, "When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!"

v13 may surprise us. God says to the Israelites: 'I will no longer save you'. We may "think" we know how forgiveness "works"; i.e. we do something wrong, we say sorry and we are forgiven. V10 shows how they pray; "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals."

We've seen this before in Judges, eg 3:9 'When the people of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer.' In v13, however, the Israelites do not get the same response from God as this time he says "I will no longer save you"

God's response should not be that surprising in the context of the Israelites forsaking God. Even after God sent a punishment designed to make them see how foolish it was to follow other gods, they still didn't turn back to him – for 18 years!! Vs11-12 show that they only go to God as a last resort, despite all that God did for them and after the many times he had rescued them.

Imagine a woman whose husband has multiple affairs. He's not ashamed about it and never bothers to hide it. He ignores her, never apologises and lives as if she didn't exist. Then, after 18 years, he calls to say he's broken down on the motorway. He has tried the AA, RAC and Green flag and they cannot help. He has tried all the women he's slept with and they cannot help. Then he asks her to go and help him. What is more shocking: That he took it for granted that she'd drop everything to help him out or that she says no to him?

So why are we shocked when God says no? Maybe we don't truly know God and consequently take him for granted, assuming we have nothing to worry about because, after all, he is a merciful God and will "forgive us again and again".

God is a God "whose nature is always to have mercy" however is also true that God says "no" to those who say sorry without truly being sorry and who have no intention of changing. Like the friend who strolls up to meet you over an hour late and casually says sorry. But he isn't. He doesn't see what he's done as all that bad and he'll do exactly the same thing next time.

Recognising our sin and our need for help are essential first steps when we turn to God. But that is not enough - God was not impressed and he said no. What was missing? True repentance involves a decision to change the direction of what you are doing. It means turning from serving the Baals to serving God – the Israelites had not done that.

So, what is God teaching us about Himself? God is a God who says "no" to saving us when we do not truly repent – and that is still true today.

We need to be careful that we are not putting ourselves in danger by going through the motions of saying sorry to God without truly repenting. Do not take him for granted! Do not presume that he will forgive you unless you turn to him in repentance! We need to hear the challenge that God is angry and will not be placated with a mindless reciting of the confession prayer, or a quick sorry flung his way as we continue our lives as before. It is possible to say sorry and hear God say no.

Paul talks about this in 1 Cor 7:10 "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death."

By itself experiencing "sorrow" is not "repentance". Biblical repentance is a total change of mind in line with God's word. The person who repents now hates what they once loved and loves what they once hated.

So listen carefully to this warning: God does say no to saving us when we do not repent.


3) A God who helps those who do not deserve it (v15-16)

Are you ever tempted to think that you can earn God's approval and the better you are, the more you deserve to be forgiven by God? If so, this passage will surprise you because God wants us to see that he is a God who helps those who do not deserve it. Look at v15-16:

15But the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now." 16Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD.
And he could bear Israel's misery no longer.

This time they show true repentance and not just recognition of their sin. They're aware that they cannot assume God will forgive them – they say 'do with us whatever you think best'. They also turn from their idols – v16 'they got rid of the foreign gods among them.' This time they realise they can't go to God for help and continue with their sinful, disobedient lives. So they throw themselves on his mercy, turn away from their idols and wait to see what he does.

V16 may surprise us. We read, 'And he could bear Israel's misery no longer.'

The surprise is this. God doesn't say: "Well done. Now that you have said sorry properly and turned away from your gods, I will save you." Instead he saw how much they were suffering and he had compassion on them even though they did not deserve it. So he didn't act to save them until they had repented, but he did not save them because they had repented.

What we see next is that God saves them by sending a judge called Jephthah. The fact that he sends them yet another judge is a sign of his never ending grace and mercy. That is also the lesson to learn from the 2 judges who are briefly mentioned earlier in the chapter – Tola and Jair. Despite the fact that God's people didn't deserve it, God sent them a rescuer over and over again.

So, what is God teaching us about Himself? God is a God who forgives those who do not deserve it. He is a God of grace and mercy and that is still true today.

So we can have confidence that God will save us, even though we do not deserve it. We see that in how he treated the Israelites here, and we see it most clearly in Jesus and what he came to do.
Just like the Israelites we have turned away from God and deserve being abandoned by him and left to dreadful eternal consequences of what we have done. And like the Israelites we are in great need of God's mercy.

We sin every day. We fail to love God will all our hearts and souls and mind and strength. We are luke-warm in our love for him. All our motives, even at our very best are mixed. We grumble and we moan about what He has done for us. We worry about tomorrow and fail to trust him. We get angry too quickly. We desire what we should not have. And without God's mercy we are finished.

Back then God raised up a human 'judge' or saviour to rescue his people. But ultimately God himself came to sort out the mess we have made of our lives, and the world. Jesus came to earth, God himself who came as our saviour, as the ultimate judge, to save us. He came to do what Jephthah and Samson and the others failed to do by dying for us on a cross – taking the punishment we deserved so that we can be forgiven.

That forgiveness is not automatic. We must not presume that God will forgive us because he's a bit of a push-over. As if the day of judgement will be where God giving us a long list of all we have done wrong and then winking at us as he lets us in to heaven as if it all didn't matter. We can be forgiven, but we need to turn back to him in repentance and ask for it.

We also need to rely not on our own goodness or even on our repentance. The only basis on which he will forgive us is his mercy and Jesus death for us on the cross.

That is a wonderful truth and we so easily take it for granted! We should rejoice each and every day that God helps those who do not deserve it. So look to the cross and savour and delight in the wonderful mercy for the God who helps those who do not deserve it.

Conclusion

We have that God is jealous and angry when his people serve other Gods, so let us take our sin seriously. He says no to saving us when we are not sorry, so let us never take him for granted. And finally he is a God who helps those who do not deserve it, so let us trust in what Jesus has done for us on the cross and be grateful for his wonderful mercy.

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