God Has No Grandchildren

Topical Scripture: Judges 2:6-16

A young Malian who immigrated to France will be made a French citizen and has been offered a job by the Paris fire brigade. This after he saved a child dangling from a balcony.

Mamoudou Gassama climbed up four floors of the apartment building in seconds and rescued the child. He has been called a “real-life Spiderman.”

If only such heroes could save us spiritually.

Human nature doesn’t change. The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is still mine. I want to “be as god” (Genesis 3:5). I want to be president of my own universe. I follow God with failing steps and fall down as often as I stand tall. Your story is much the same.

This pattern of sin comes clear early in the history of the Hebrew people. They have no sooner entered their Promised Land than they begin a downward spiral into immorality which stifles their souls and corrupts their nation. We can find the same pattern in our lives and culture. But the God of grace is as ready to heal and restore us as he was ready to help them.

Where do you need his forgiving love?

Failing to transmit the faith (Judges 2:6–7, 10)

Things start well in the Book of Judges. Joshua dismisses the people from the national gathering which heard his final address, “each to his own inheritance” (Judges 2:6). Throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and saw the great works of God, the nation continued to follow the Lord (v. 7).

However, “Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (v. 10). No one told them. No one instructed the next generation in that which the last generation had learned from and about God. The faith is always one generation from extinction, and the worst nearly came to pass here.

It is vital that parents teach the faith to their children. In fact, we who are privileged to be parents have no greater responsibility under God.

We don’t have to adopt Freudian principles to understand that children typically relate to God as they relate to their parents. If our children see us follow Christ at church but not at home, they learn that faith is only for the church building. If they hear us speak in one tone to people but another way behind their backs, they learn that faith is only for public show. If the only time they hear us pray or watch us read Scripture is at church, they learn that prayer and Scripture are only for Sunday.

God’s command is clear: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). These were the most public ways they could display the word of God.

The prophet’s edict is still God’s intention for us: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3).

Genetic engineering is much in the news. The idea that parents can one day determine the sex, hair and eye color, abilities and capabilities of their unborn children is exciting to some and abhorrent to most of us. It is very troubling to me as well.

But while I don’t believe in genetic engineering, I believe very strongly in “spiritual engineering.” We must do all we can to help our families and friends follow Jesus, to mentor them in the Christian faith, to encourage and influence them for Christ. Eternity is at stake.

In what way will the next generation be strong in the faith because of you and those you’ll teach this week?

Spiraling downward (Judges 2:11–19)

The baton has fallen to the ground, and it will never be carried as well again in the Book of Judges. The next verses provide an umbrella under which the narrative across the following chapters fits tragically well. The pattern is clear:

  • The people rejected God as their Lord and are worshiping other gods.
  • The Lord responded with divine retribution which led to military defeat and “great distress” (v. 15).
  • The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (v. 18), so that God had compassion on them.
  • He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (v. 16).

This downward slide would continue throughout the Book of Judges, as the conclusion of the book makes clear: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

Now let’s examine this pattern in more detail, for it is still the basic sin pattern in our lives today.

We reject God as Lord

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (vs. 11–12a).

Who were these other gods, among them the “Baals” and “Ashtoreths” (v. 13)?

“Baal” was the Canaanite word for “master” or “lord.” The name described one of the chief male deities of Canaanite religion. He was seen as lord of the weather and storms, so that his voice was heard in the thunder, his spear was the lightning bolt, and his steed the storms.

The Canaanites worshiped Baal in a variety of ways, usually on hilltops called “high places” (so they could be as close to him as possible). They sacrificed animals (and sometimes children) and performed sexual dances on his behalf.

The wife of Baal was Ashtoreth. She was seen as the evening star and the goddess of war and fertility. She was worshiped through temple prostitution (involving both men and women). Sacred pillars (perhaps phallic symbols) were placed near the temples of Baal as altars to her. The Greeks worshiped her as Aphrodite, the Romans as Venus.

These deities were enticing to the Israelites as they entered the land of Canaan, for several reasons.

First, the connection of deity with locality was an accepted fact of ancient religion. The Jews were the first people in human history to worship one God and to believe that he was the Lord of the entire universe. Every other ancient people associated individual deities with specific places or functions. Such localized worship was the popular thing to do.

Second, the need to prosper agriculturally was vital for the people as they entered the land. Just as the Pilgrims learned how to farm in the New World from the Indians who already inhabited the land, so these Jews needed to learn how to survive in this new country. If the Canaanites worshiped Baal as a means to their crops’ success, such a practice would be enticing to the Hebrews as well. Religion would serve their quest for prosperity and success.

Third, the sexuality inherent in Canaanite worship would appeal to the Hebrews. They had long been warned against adultery and licentiousness. Now they were surrounded by people who had made sexual pleasure a basic part of their worship. Such lustful religion would appeal to people across ancient history (note the temple prostitutes in Ephesus and Corinth during the apostolic era of the Church).

Popularity, prosperity, and pleasure—are these not still attractive today?

In what ways are you tempted to Baalism today? Human nature doesn’t change. Anything which tempted our parents will also tempt us. Popularity and peer pressure are just as powerful for us as for the ancient Israelites; our desire to succeed can easily corrupt our faith commitments; lust and pleasure can entice us away from obedience to our Father and his word.

Whenever we back down from an unpopular stand for our Lord, or compromise to get ahead, or yield to sinful pleasure, we continue the sin cycle which Judges condemns. Do you have business with God today?

We incur divine wrath

The sin of the Hebrews “provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12–13). With this response: “In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (vv. 14–15).

God is Lord of our circumstances and times. He permits or even causes suffering in our lives when such pain leads to greater good.

We see this pattern across the word of God. Joseph went through Potiphar and prison on his way to Pharaoh and humble service to the Lord. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness until he was ready to put the Lord’s will before his own. The people spent another forty years in wilderness wanderings until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

Scripture states: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This famous verse does not say that all things are good, but that God will use all things for good. He never wastes a hurt. He is able to redeem any pain which we will give to him.

Our Father deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. God can and will use people, circumstances, and events to draw us back to himself. Is there a place in your life where the Lord has withdrawn his blessing so as to draw you closer to humility and dependence on his strength?

We repent

The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (Judges 2:18). And God had pity on his people and intervened with compassion.

It is a tragic fact of human nature that we typically turn to God only when we must. We want to be in charge of our own lives and destinies; “I did it my way” is the theme song of our culture. We must often get so far down that we can look nowhere but up. But when we do, God hears us.

God wants us to come to him in repentance for our sins: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, he is overjoyed when we make this decision: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

Such repentance is the necessary condition to grace. Not because our sorrow earns God’s favor, but because it positions us to receive what God’s grace intends to give. We often think that we must feel badly enough for long enough that our pain merits God’s favor. But his salvation is given only by his grace (Ephesians 2:8–9); our response is gratitude, repentance, and commitment.

God heals and forgives

When we return to God, he responds to us in grace. At this point in Hebrew history, he provided a “judge” who would lead them out of oppression to freedom and prosperity: “Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord had compassion on them” (Judges 2:18).

These “judges” were more than legal arbitrators. They were military leaders, redeemers, and liberators. Each was an instrument in the hands of God, intended to call the nation not to themselves but to the God they served. Through them the Lord provided liberation and protection for his repentant people.

Now through the Lord Jesus, the supreme liberator of mankind, he offers the same compassion today.


Are popularity, prosperity, and pleasure temptations in our culture? In your life? If we put them before God, we incur his wrath as a means to our repentance. But if we choose to repent, God heals and forgives.

Where do you need his grace today? Has the ancient sin cycle surfaced in your life? What business do you have with your Father this week?

Many years ago, in the pioneer days of aviation, a pilot was in the air when he heard a noise which he recognized as the gnawing of a rat. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane. It was a very serious situation. At first the pilot did not know what to do. He was more than two hours from the next landing strip, and two hours gone from the field where he had taken off.

Then he remembered that a rat is a rodent. It was not made for the heights; it was made to live on the ground and under the ground. And so, the pilot began to climb. He went up a thousand feet, then another and another until he was over 20,000 feet up. The gnawing ceased. The rat was dead. It could not survive the atmosphere of those heights. More than two hours later the pilot brought the plane safely to the landing field and found the dead rat.

Sin is a rodent. It cannot live in the secret place of the Most High God. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere of prayer and trust and Scripture and worship. It dies when we take it to the Lord.

This is the promise of God.

Right and Wrong Ways to Know God’s Will

Topical Scripture: Judges 6

You know the world is changing when the World Health Organization proposes adding “gaming disorder” to its manual of disease classifications. According to the manual, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior.” Symptoms include a lack of control over gaming; giving gaming preference over other life interests and daily activities; and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.

We live in a culture that is changing more rapidly than ever before. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the most common question I’ve been asked in four decades of ministry is, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” Some people ask this question with regard to a specific decision they are facing, others as they seek their general direction and life purpose.

In our series from the Book of Judges, we come today to a man who desperately needed to know how to answer this question. His story is in Scripture as an example for us today. From Gideon we will learn what to do and what not to do. Both lessons are vital.

Believe in God’s love

Our story is set in one of the most dangerous periods in Jewish history. It begins, as so often in Judges, with the nation’s sin: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 6:1a). As a result, “for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” (v. 1b).

Who were these oppressors? Why were they so dangerous?

Midian was the fourth son of Abraham by his second wife (or concubine) Keturah (Genesis 25:2). His descendants intermingled with the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:25), living as nomads in the desert east of the Dead Sea and the Sinai Peninsula (modern-day Saudi Arabia).

In our text, the Midianites aligned with “Amalekites and other eastern people” (Judges 6:3) to attack Israel. They amassed large herds of camels, making them much quicker than the foot soldiers of Israel (v. 5b). When the harvest was ripe, they would appear “like swarms of locusts” (v. 5a) and steal the sheep, cattle, donkeys, and crops of the Jews (v. 4).

The Israelites were forced to hide from them in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds (v. 2). They could not defeat their enemy or live like this much longer. So, they finally “cried out to the Lord for help” (v. 6), repenting of their sin and turning to God.

Who or what are the Midianites and Amalekites in your life? Where are you facing challenges and struggles? They may be the result of your sins, or they may be the result of living in a fallen world.

Either way, know that God still loves you. He knows your pain (Hebrews 4:15) and cares about your suffering. You can still call out to him for help. It’s never too soon to give up on God.

Go where God sends

The Lord’s revealed will for their need came in a surprising way.

He sent his angel to Gideon, son of Joash the Abiezrite, while he was “threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11). Wheat was typically threshed in an open area where the wind could carry away the chaff, while grapes were crushed into wine in an enclosed area where they would be more protected from the elements.

Gideon was a laborer, working as a field hand. He was hiding from Israel’s enemies in fear. Such was not the resume we would expect for a “mighty warrior” of God (v. 12b).

The angel assured Gideon that “the Lord is with you” (v. 12a). The frustrated Israelite immediately protested that God’s presence should not have allowed them to fall into the hands of the Midianites (v. 13). Rather than speculate as to the reasons for their suffering, the angel offered the practical next step of God: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (v. 14).

There is an entire theology of God’s will in this one verse.

Lesson one: God’s direction is always more practical than speculative. We want to know why something happened—our Lord is usually more interested in showing us what to do when it does occur. Rather than providing a full philosophical theodicy for their suffering, he provides a practical solution in Gideon’s leadership.

Lesson two: God has prepared us for whatever he calls us to do. Gideon was to “go in the strength you have,” not waiting until he acquired greater physical prowess or military might. The Lord has already made you ready for the next step you are to take, or he would not call you to take it. If you are to share Christ with a difficult neighbor or give a greater sacrifice of your time and money, or follow God into a new vocation, he has already prepared you for the will he now reveals. You have the strength you need for the task at hand.

Lesson three: His will is always for what comes next. He was to “save Israel out of Midian’s hand,” because that was the problem before them. We want a five-year plan, but no one in Scripture is given such advance notice. Today is the only day there is. God’s will is first and foremost for this present moment and the faithfulness it requires of us. Obedience, more than knowledge, is the issue.

Lesson four: God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain. He was “sending” Gideon in his will, provision, and power. He would go before him and prepare the way; he would sustain Gideon and his people in their battles; he would use them for his glory and their good. When Gideon protested that he was the weakest member of the weakest family in the weakest clan of Israel (v. 15), God repeated his assurance, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (v. 16).

Trust where God leads

But such assurance was not enough for Gideon. So, he placed a wool fleece on the threshing floor where he was at work (v. 37). He asked God to make the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry, and his request was answered (vv. 37–38). Then he asked that the fleece be dry while the ground was wet (the greater miracle, as fleece would absorb much more dew than the ground), and again it was so (vv. 39–40). And Gideon had his assurance and was ready to lead the armies of Israel into battle.

God’s willingness to meet Gideon’s conditions demonstrates his grace. He takes us where we are and leads us where we need to go. His incarnational love comes into our condition and accommodates his holiness to our fallenness. But the fact that he was willing to give Gideon such signs is not clear proof that he intends us to ask for them today.

Gideon’s method of determining God’s will has come down through history as “putting out the fleece.” Countless believers have followed his example by constructing circumstantial tests for knowing God’s direction.

For instance, I have known of pastors who would go to a church only if a specific percentage of the congregation voted to call them, believing that such a number would show them whether it was God’s will for them to accept the call or not. I have heard of churches which decide that they will move forward with capital projects only if a certain percentage of the needed funds are pledged in a given time period, as indication of God’s will in the matter.

Either decision could be pragmatic; I would not pastor a church if the large majority did not want to call me, or move forward with a building project if a sizeable percentage of the needed funds were not pledged. But for some, the specific number itself is an indication of God’s will. One pastor I know refused a church’s call because he had set a “fleece” of 90 percent and received 88 percent instead.

I would caution you against using the “fleece” method as the biblical way of knowing God’s will, for several reasons.

First, Gideon’s fleece is described in the Bible, not prescribed in Scripture. No verse of God’s word asks us to seek God’s will in this way. The fact that Gideon used this practice does not mandate it for us. David’s sin with Bathsheba is described accurately, but certainly not prescribed for us today.

Second, Gideon is not the best moral character in Scripture to follow. When the people of Peniel would not help him in battle, he pulled down their tower and killed all the men of the town (Judges 8:17). Then he took gold from the people and formed an ephod (a priestly garment) as an idol for the people to worship (vv. 24–27). He had many wives, and at least one concubine as well (vv. 30–31). Nowhere does the Bible lift him up as an example for us to follow in seeking the Lord’s direction for our lives.

Third, a circumstantial “fleece” must be interpreted carefully. Satan can move people to act, as with Judas’s betrayal of Jesus (John 13:27). People can misuse their freedom to act in ways which contradict God’s word and will, as the Hebrews did in our text. And events can be understood in different ways. Jesus’ miracles caused many in the crowds to believe in him, but some to attribute his powers to Beelzebub (Luke 11:14–15).


Let me say it again: God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain. Whatever your challenges, know that your Father loves you. Choose to go where he sends and trust where he leads.

He may reveal his will through Scripture, circumstances, other people, or by speaking to you intuitively. But if you are willing to go anywhere and do anything, when you need to know his will, you will. The question is not one of knowledge, but obedience.

God has a plan for Adam and Eve—where and what to live. A plan for Noah—how to build his ark, right down to the exact specifications and building materials he should use. A plan for Abraham, including where he should live, how old he would be when he had his son, and even that son’s name. A plan for Joseph, using his slavery and imprisonment to save the entire nation. A plan for Moses, encompassing the very words he should say to Pharaoh. A plan for Joshua, showing him where and how to take the land. A plan for David and Solomon, for their kingdom and the temple they would build for him. A plan for Daniel, even in the lion’s den.

Jesus had plans for his first disciples—plans they could not have begun to understand. He had a plan for Saul of Tarsus as he left to persecute the Christians in Damascus. He had a plan for John on Patmos.

Now God has a plan for your life.

In what way is your Lord calling you to be a Gideon for today? Identify your Midianites, and the reason they are persecuting you. If sin is causing your suffering, admit it and claim your Father’s forgiving grace. Then seek his direction for your next step. Surrender to his will before he reveals it, refusing to be conformed to the world’s mold, being transformed daily by your communion with him. And you will know his “good, pleasing, and perfect” will (Romans 12:2).

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits, and made this prayer theirs:

Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve,

To give and not to count the cost,

To fight and not to heed the wounds,

To toil and not to seek for rest,

To labor and not to ask any reward,

Save that of knowing that we do your will.


The Best Definition of Success

Topical Scripture: Judges 4:1-24

Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, thought there should be an annual day to honor fathers. She went to local churches, shopkeepers, and government officials with her idea. She was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910. President Nixon made the day a permanent national holiday in 1972.

Father’s Day is now that annual holiday when you try to find gifts that your father doesn’t have but would want. Another tie is probably not on the list.

You might consider a wi-fi coffeemaker, which your father can program through an app on his smartphone. Or rent him a day in a classic car (I would choose the 1974 Ford Bronco for $225). Or give him a day at car racing school.

As we think about gifts for fathers, let’s also consider what our heavenly Father wants fathers to give their children. There are two commitments we can make to God that will directly influence our families and our culture. Each of them is vital to the health of our souls as well. Together, they define a life a life well-lived.

As we continue our series in Judges, this week we come to a woman who changed the world. We will learn from her example how fathers and the rest of us can do the same.

Risk your present to the God of the future

Last week’s sin pattern persists in this week’s study: the judge dies, and the people return to their sins (Judges 4:1). God must bring judgment and punishment; this time he “sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor” (Judges 4:2).

Hazor was situated in the northern region of the Promised Land, in the area inhabited by the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun (v. 6; Joshua 19:32-39). Joshua had earlier exterminated its residents; it was the only city in that region which he destroyed by fire (Joshua 11:11–13). Later the Jabin Dynasty recovered power and restored the city. Solomon would later make it a fortified city and raise a levy to pay for the project (1 Kings 9:15). Its precise location is still disputed today, and several sites are suggested by archaeologists.

The commander of Jabin’s army was named Sisera (not a Canaanite name; perhaps he was a mercenary from a nearby nation). He commanded “nine hundred iron chariots,” perhaps a broad military coalition rather than the forces of a single city. Such an army is known to history; Pharaoh Thutmose III boasted of capturing 924 chariots at the battle of Megiddo in the fifteenth century BC.

These iron chariots gave Sisera and his soldiers complete advantage over the agrarian Hebrews. They could not outrun a chariot or defeat its protected driver in battle. So Sisera “cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years” until “they cried to the Lord for help” (Judges 4:3).

The only judge who was a prophet

His answer came in an unusual form: “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time” (v. 4). Her name means “Bee.” She is the only judge to be identified as a “prophet,” but not the only woman in the Bible with this ministry. Miriam (Exodus 15:20) was before her, and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s “four daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9) would follow after her.

A “prophet” or “prophetess” was less a foreteller of the future and more a forthteller of God’s word. The spiritual gift of “prophecy” and office of “prophet” can be linked to the ministry of preaching today (cf. Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:6). In our text, Deborah functioned as one who gave God’s word to his people.

She was also “leading Israel” as a judge during this time: “She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:5). Other judges took their places of authority in the city gate; she held court under a palm tree. Her location was considerably south of Hazor, which may explain the fact that she was able to lead Israel from her palm tree while they were being oppressed by Jabin’s army to the north.

Deborah could have preserved her position and security, but her countrymen in the northern tribes were being oppressed and God had compassion on them. He used his prophetess to give his word to “Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali” (v. 6a). He lived in the region directly affected by Sisera and was apparently a likely choice to lead a rebellion against his oppression.

Deborah’s word came directly from God: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor” (v. 6b). This was a mighty army for the time. They were to hide atop Mount Tabor, 1843 feet above sea level, situated at the border between the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali and thus accessible to all.

God would then “lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands” (v. 7). The heavy, iron-clad chariots would perhaps founder in the plain along the Kishon, especially if heavy rains came (cf. Judges 5:4 (NIV), where “the clouds poured down water”). Sisera would think he was chasing his adversaries into a dead-end, but the defeat would be his.

All Barak was called to do was obey and the victory would be his, but he refused to lead the army’s rebellion unless Deborah went with him (Judges 4:8). So, she spoke prophetically again: “Very well, I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (v. 9).

Barak and Deborah led their army up the mountain and down into battle against Sisera, and “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword” (v. 15). Barak pursued Sisera’s army back to their general’s home of Harosheth Haggoyim, and all fell by the sword (v. 16).

Lessons learned from a prophet of God

From this part of our story we learn two important facts. One: God will use anyone who will follow him by obedient faith. Neither Deborah nor Barak did anything to earn their selection as leaders of God’s people.

It was the same for Abraham, the father of their nation: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1). There is absolutely no indication that this future father to more than half of the world’s religious population did anything to earn this call on his life. He didn’t graduate from Harvard Law on his way to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Neither Abram, Deborah, or Barak had resumes, lists of achievements, merit with God.

Such is the pattern of Scripture. Noah saved the human race, then planted a vineyard and got drunk; Moses ran from Egyptian authorities for forty years before returning to free his people from them; Bathsheba overshadows Goliath on David’s resume; Peter denied Christ before he preached him; Saul murdered Christians before he taught them.

God uses the usable. He does not call the equipped—he equips the called. If God could call Deborah and Barak, what’s to keep him from calling you?

A second fact emerges from this part of our narrative: Obedience is the key to victory with God. If Barak and Deborah had been unwilling to climb Mount Tabor, they could not have ridden down its elevation to victory over Sisera. If they had not done what God said, when he said it, how he said it, they would have lost the battle.

Armies must follow their leaders if they are to be successful. Athletes must obey their coaches if they are to improve. Students must follow their teachers’ direction if they are to learn. We must follow God if he is to lead us.

Mother Teresa was opening an orphanage in New York City, and a press conference broke out. One reporter shouted the question, “How will you measure the success of this work?” The tiny nun turned to the camera, smiled, and said, “I don’t believe our Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.” Success is obedience with God.

Risk your present to God’s future, and you’ll have his victory.

Risk your future to the God of the present (Judges 4:17–24)

The battle was over, the forces of Deborah and Barak victorious. But Sisera was still on the run. And he knew where to go to hide.

“Heber the Kenite” had moved from his ancestral home in the southern part of Canaan to the northern area, to alight himself with Jabin king of Hazor (vv. 11, 17). “Kenite” means metalworker, perhaps indicating that Heber was an engineer partly responsible for creating the king’s fleet of iron chariots.

Sisera knew where Heber lived, and assumed he would be given safe haven. He found Heber’s wife at the foot of the tent. Jael (her name meant “Mountain Goat”) welcomed him inside. In their culture, only her father or husband would be permitted inside her tent, so the forces of Deborah and Barak would not think to look there for the general. She gave him goat’s milk for his thirst, enticing him to nap.

She then took the only implements available to her, a tent peg and hammer, and used them to kill the mighty general. In this way Deborah’s prophecy came to pass: the Lord handed Sisera over to a woman (v. 9). And the greatest enemy Israel knew was destroyed by the wife of one of their greatest traitors.

Jael is truly an unsung hero of Scripture. Her part in the story reminds us that God will use all who will be used, and that obedience is the key to success. What tent peg and hammer has he put into your hand this week?

This courageous woman could have acted to protect her security and relationship with her husband. She could have allowed Sisera to escape, and none would have blamed her. She risked her marriage and family, with no promise of material provision. She could have lost her home and even her life if her husband caught her in the act of killing Sisera. She trusted her future to the God of the present. And he continues to make her name great today.

What about the future most worries you today? Where is God leading you on an uncertain path? Where are you challenged to trust him with the results of your obedience? If you are faithful in tithes and offerings, will your financial needs be met? If you are willing to share your faith, will your friend still be your friend? If you are faithful to use your gifts for ministry, will you have time for your family and career?

Jael trusted her present to the God of the future and invites us to join her today. Remember: all of God there is, is in this moment.


If we trust our present to the God of the future, and our future to the God of the present, we position ourselves to be used by our Lord in transformative ways. Fathers can give their children no greater blessing. Children can pay their fathers no higher honor.

God will use anyone who will be used. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

Think about it: the wealthiest man in Dallas is no more important to God than his gardener. Name the last five Nobel Peace Prize winners, or the Super Bowl champions of two years ago, or the World Series champions last year, or the monarch of Great Britain before Queen Elizabeth II. Every one of us can change the world. But only if we seek his will and surrender to his voice. Only if we measure success by obedience.

Do you?

The Man Who Prepared for War

Topical Scripture: Judges 3:12-30

October 10, 2011 was Les and Karen Ferguson’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. Les was at a preacher’s meeting when his wife and their twenty-one-year-old son, Cole, were shot to death in their home.

The apparent killer had attended their church until being charged with sexually assaulting Cole, who had cerebral palsy. The day Karen and Cole were killed, the man was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

We cannot imagine the grief that Les and the rest of his family endured. The minister’s grief overwhelmed him as he withdrew from everyone except his remaining family and a few friends. He later launched an online journal called “Desperately Wanting to Believe Again.” And he has.

Les has returned to pastoral ministry and written a transparent book on his faith journey. If he can serve a God whose ways he will never fully understand, can’t we?

This week we will meet a man who became an unlikely judge and rescued his people from horrific oppression. And we will learn that the God who used Ehud will use anyone who is willing to be used. There are no exceptions.

Refuse sin before judgment comes (vv. 12–14)

Thirteen centuries before Christ, the twelve Jewish tribes were living in their Promised Land. However, they were still surrounded by external enemies that imperiled their future. And their internal sin was a greater threat than any external nation.

Last week we discussed the pattern of Judges:

  • The people reject God
  • God responds with divine retribution
  • The people repent
  • God raises up a judge as their deliverer.

This pattern begins in our text: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12a). “Evil” translates the Hebrew word ra, meaning that which is wicked, contemptible, noxious, hurtful.

The text is not more specific. We’re not told if their evil had to do with idolatry, sexual immorality, theft, or any other sins. I believe there are two reasons for the ambiguity of the text.

One reason is that any sin is sin before the Lord. Our righteous, holy Father must view all sins as evil. We rank sins as less or greater in significance, but any sin breaks our fellowship with our perfect Lord.

A second reason is that our text can now apply to any reader. The Bible states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Any sin you have committed today makes this text relevant to you.

God must punish sin. But he often chooses unusual ways to express his judgment. In this case, he “strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (v. 12b). The Moabites lived on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea (in modern-day Saudi Arabia, just south of Jordan), directly east of the tribe of Judah. They were Israel’s relatives, descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:36–37).

The Lord had earlier forbidden the Jews from taking the Moabites’ land. As the Jews were on their way to the Promised Land, Moses testified: “We turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession'” (Deuteronomy 2:8–9).

Now the Lord raised up the Moabites to punish Israel. Eglon, their king, made an alliance with the Ammonites (to the north of Moab) and the Amelekites (to the south of Israel). With their help, Eglon was able to defeat Israel and take possession of “the city of palms,” Jericho (v. 13). As a result, “the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years” (v. 14).

One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to tempt us to believe that we can sin without consequences. He said to Eve in the Garden, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). He says to us that we can get away with this. No one will be hurt; no one will know. We can always repent later.

The reality is that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thomas Watson warned us: “Sin has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.” Every time.

What “evil” are you being tempted to commit today?

Prepare to be used by God (vv. 15–23)

True to form, “the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer” (v. 15a). It is never too late to repent. The nation would not get back the eighteen years it spent enslaved to Moab, but its past did not need to become its future.

In this case, their deliverer was “Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man” (v. 15b). Every word of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and included in Scripture for a reason. In this case, we learn two important facts about the judge named Ehud.

One: he was a “Benjamite.” This was the smallest of the twelve tribes but one of the most capable. Among them were “700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). Ehud grew up among warriors and was clearly prepared to be one himself.

Two: he was “a left-handed man” himself. Since only about ten percent of the population is left-handed, soldiers typically learned to fight right-handed. Ehud was therefore likely ambidextrous, an even more capable fighter. This fact would serve him well.

When the people sent tribute to Eglon by Ehud, he “made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length” (v. 16a), eighteen inches long. It was so short that he could hide it “on his right thigh under his clothes” (v. 16b). This is not where the king’s guards would think to look for it, since a right-handed man would hide his weapon on the left side of his body.

When he was alone with the king, Ehud “reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (v. 21), killing the Moabite king. Ehud was then able to escape with his life.

However, there is no way he could have known that he would be alone with Eglon. I think he was willing to pay for his faithfulness with his life. As it was, he lived on to complete the overthrow of the Moabites, as we will see shortly.

Of all we could say about Ehud, I would emphasize the fact that he prepared to be used by God.

We live and work in a divine-human partnership. Noah built the ark, and God closed its door. Moses held out his staff, and God parted the Red Sea. David was willing to fight Goliath, and God helped him succeed. Peter preached at Pentecost, and the Spirit led three thousand souls to Jesus.

Here we see Ehud preparing along with his fellow Benjamites for battle. Depending on his age, he might have never known a time when the Moabites were not oppressing his people. He worked and waited until his moment came. When it did, he was ready.

It’s been said that God seeks not ability but availability. It’s actually both. He gives us abilities and spiritual gifts he expects us to nurture and develop. Then he uses us in ways we might never imagine.

Many years ago, a wise mentor said to me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” Are you preparing to be used by your Lord?

Seek to change the world (vv. 24–30)

After Ehud executed Eglon and escaped, “he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim” and became the leader of the nation (v. 27). Under his leadership, the people “killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped” (v. 29). Our enemies may be strong, but our God is always stronger.

As a result, “Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (v. 30), twice as long as under any other judge.

God wants to use us to change the world. Anything less is less than his purpose for our lives. If Ehud could show us how to join God in his transforming mission, he would call us to three imperatives.

Choose holiness now. Sin is spiritual cancer. It always grows. It always affects more people than the sinner. It drives a wedge between us and our Father. It leads to his justice and judgment. Ask the Lord if there is “evil” in your life, and repent if there is.

Prepare to be used by God. In what ways are you “left-handed”? What are your abilities? Your spiritual gifts? Your resources and opportunities? With whom do you have influence? All of this is God’s gift to you, to be developed with excellence for his glory and our good.

We tend to focus on our weaknesses, trying to make them better. But experts say that the wisest strategy is to focus on our strengths, trying to make them excellent. How are you doing this?

Oswald Chambers’ motto should be ours: “My utmost for his highest.”

Pay the price of courage. As I noted, there was no guarantee Ehud would survive his attack on Israel’s oppressor. Nor was there any guarantee that those he led would defeat the “strong, able-bodied men” of Moab with whom they fought.

When we see evil, we must respond. When we see a need, we must meet it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer testified: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” He paid for these words with his life, but his life will continue to change the world until Jesus returns.


Does the world need another Ehud?

Jesus called capable men who had built a very successful fishing enterprise, but then he said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If they would do what they could do, he would do what they could not.

He called a brilliant scholar of the Pharisees to become his “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). If Paul would dedicate his mind and skills to Jesus, the Lord would use him to write half of the New Testament.

What is he calling you to do?

I cannot leave Ehud without calling to mind some of the most famous words on our subject ever spoken. They come from a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Will you go into “the arena” today?

Why Gambling Is So Dangerous

Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13

The Supreme Court recently struck down a federal law that prohibits sports gambling. The landmark decision gives states the right to legalize betting on sports. New Jersey plans to be the first state to offer legal wagering on the results of a game. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are expected to follow suit.

My purpose today is not to debate the legalities of sports gambling. Rather, it is to focus on gambling in the context of biblical truth and God’s best for us.

Understand the promise and power of gambling

According to the American Gaming Association, gambling in the US is a $240 billion industry employing 1.7 million people in forty states. Why is gambling so popular?

The former Director of Gaming Enforcement for the state of New Jersey told a conference that the success of Atlantic City was tied to how well it sold its “only products.” He explained: “That product is not entertainment or recreation or leisure. It’s really adrenaline: a biological substance capable of producing excitement—highs generated usually by anticipation or expectation of a future event, especially when the outcome of that event is in doubt.”

According to a chief regulator of the industry, gambling is not only a drug, but a mind-altering drug. One author calls it a “controlled substance.”

Psychologists offer several reasons for the popularity of gambling in our culture:

  • It provides a sense of partial reinforcement we crave. “I’ll get lucky next time” is a powerful lure.
  • Some fall for the “gambler’s fallacy” of believing that a string of losses makes a win more likely.
  • The illusion of control causes many gamblers to believe that they have some power over the outcome, whether picking numbers in a lottery or blowing on dice before throwing them.
  • Loss aversion is a major motivator: we feel more pain over losing $100 than joy over winning $100. When a gambler loses money, he or she is motivated to keep gambling to recover what has been lost.

Solomon observed, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19 NIV). He added, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV).

Paul warned that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Beware the plague of addictive gambling

As many as 750,000 young people have a gambling addiction. People between the ages of twenty and thirty have the highest rates of problem gambling (defined as “an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop”).

People who abuse alcohol are twenty-three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction. An estimated 50 percent of those with gambling problems commit crimes to support their addiction.

According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, there is evidence that pathological gambling is an addiction similar to chemical addiction. Winning at gambling has been compared neurologically to a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of the drug.

Those who are pathological gamblers are highly likely to exhibit other psychiatric problems, including substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, or personality disorders.

Problem gambling has also been linked to increased suicide attempts. A report in the United States by the National Council on Problem Gambling showed that approximately one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide. The council also reported that suicide rates among pathological gamblers were higher than for any other addictive disorder.

Step-based treatment programs now exist for problem gamblers. Anti-addiction drugs are being tested on gambling addicts as well.

Does the possibility of gambling addiction mean that all gambling is wrong?

Many substances and activities can become addictive. The fact that some people are addicted to their cell phones does not mean that cell phones should be illegal.

But it does mean that you should absolutely know your limits and be aware of any inclination toward gambling addiction. This online test is one way to determine whether you have a problem or not.

Scripture teaches, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NIV). This text does not mean that no one should ever drink alcohol. But it does mean that no one should ever get drunk. Then alcohol becomes the primary determiner of our actions rather than the Holy Spirit.

The same principle applies to any substance or activity, gambling included. If gambling rather than the Spirit is controlling your life, stop and get help now.

Trust God’s power over temptation

Now to our text. Scripture promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

From this remarkable text we find four crucial imperatives.

One: Expect to be tempted.

You will never face a unique temptation. Human nature doesn’t change, so Satan’s strategies don’t change. What worked against our ancestors works against us. We should expect to be tempted, because this fact is common to the entire human race.

Two: Respond to temptation in the power of God.

While we should expect to face temptation, we should also expect to defeat temptation: “He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Notice the definite article: “the way of escape.” There is always a way out, no matter what temptation we are facing.

In classical Greek, this phrase referred to a way out of the sea. One commentator pictured God’s promise this way: a ship is approaching a rocky shore and facing inevitable shipwreck. Suddenly it slips through a gap in the coast and sails into security and peace.

“Endure it” means “bear up under it.” The temptation will not go away, but we will be able to withstand it. This was true even for Jesus: after he defeated the enemy’s temptations in the wilderness, the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

Three: Ask for the help you need.

Our text promises that “God is faithful” in every moment and need we face. “Faithful” translates the Greek word for “trustworthy, dependable, reliable.” We can always count on our Father to be all he promises to be:

  • “The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
  • “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
  • “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
  • “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5).

Because he is faithful to us, he will always give us what we need to obey his word and will. In this case, “he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” If there is a temptation you cannot defeat in his strength, you will not face it. This means that every temptation you face is one you can defeat in his strength.

However, you must ask for what you need. Jesus counseled his followers to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). He promised us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But we must ask, seek, and knock. God honors the freedom he gives us and will not force his help upon us.

F. B. Meyer noted that “the greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” What temptations do you need to seek God’s help in defeating today?

Four: Go to God the moment temptation strikes.

When we expect to face and defeat temptation by seeking the help of God and his people, we position ourselves to receive all that we need for spiritual victory. But we’re not done. We must then take “the way of escape” our Father offers us. We must choose to “endure” the temptations we face.

In other words, we must choose to obey God as he works in and through our lives:

  • Scripture teaches us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). But we must choose to flee.
  • We are told to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). But we must choose to resist.
  • We are warned that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). But we must choose not to love money.

Billy Sunday: “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.” Rick Warren noted that “every temptation is an opportunity to do good.” But we must want to do good.

If you don’t have the strength to choose to obey God, you can ask for that strength. If you don’t have the faith to believe that his will is best, you can ask for such faith. Whatever you need, you can ask God to provide. But then you must choose to use his help.

As we work, God works.


Gambling, whether legalized betting on sports or any other form of wagering, can become a powerful drug. It can easily become addictive and lead to other destructive behaviors. And it can deceive us into believing the lie that we are in charge of our circumstances and our lives.

Only the gambler knows if he or she is wagering for fun or from an insidious motive. Thomas Watson was right: “Sin has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.”

Every time.