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What Goes Around Comes Around:

 The Circle of Sin

Text: Judges 3:7-11

Dr. Alex Tang

 

Summary

                          Are we walking with Jesus or have we left Him behind somewhere

                                            and are walking around in a circle of sin?

Text

JDG 3:7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

 

Introduction and Background

 

Two weeks ago, we were talking about Caleb, Acsah and Othniel - Upper and Nethers Springs. The story did not end with Othniel capturing the book city (Kiriath Sepher) and winning Caleb’s daughter. As we knew, Acsah asked for her father’s blessing and Caleb blessed the young couple with the water rights to the upper and lower springs of the Negev. This must have been a rich blessing because with the water rights, the young couple was able to grow crops and the desert land would have bloomed with crops and livestock.

 

Meanwhile, the rest of the tribes of Israel were supposed to be reclaiming their birthrights. By drawing lots, the promised land of Canaan was divided amongst the 12 tribes (Levi do not have land but Joseph has two portions). Joshua did not conquer the whole land but only the major cities. The tribes each have to conquest their own territories. Yahweh commands have been very specific. To reclaim the land, they have to kill everything living on it-men, women, children and even the livestock. This is genocide but Yahweh has his reasons. The inhabitants of these lands have their own gods- Baal and Asherah. Asherah was the goddess of the sea in Ugaritic literature in Syria; she was the consort of El. Asherah should not be confused with Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal. If these people are not eradicated, the Israelites in settling among them will be contaminated and lose their devotion to Yahweh. It may seem a bloody solution to a pure religion but we are trying to understand a complex situation with 21st century eyes. Unfortunately, the Israelites did not obey God. In some cases, they cannot defeat the natives so have to settle near them. In other cases, they decide to live with them and intermarry. Hence, the Israelites did exactly the opposed of what God has told them to do. There are a few instances of major points in history where things would have been different if the people involved have obeyed God

  • If Abraham has been patient and waited for Sarah to bear children rather than making Hagar pregnant, the history of the Middle East would have been different.
  • If the people have invaded Canaan immediately after the exodus with Moses as their leader, world history would be different. A theocracy would have been set up with a true worship system.
  • If the Israelites have conquered Canaan and cleared it as God has directed, world history will also be different. The Israelites will not need judges and kings. Remember all the kings of the Northern Kingdom were considered wicked. Of the Southern Kingdom, there were only 3 ‘good’ kings. The Israelites will not be conquered and exiled.

But the tribes did intermarry and followed the worship of other gods. Not only did they follow after other gods, they also forgot ‘Yahweh’. Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

 

What is the circle of sin?

  • Apostasy v.7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
  • Oppression v.8 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them  into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. Cushan-Rishathaim is a name meaning “Cushan of Double Wickedness.” Aram Naharaim is literally “Syria of the Two Rivers,” referring to Upper Mesopotamia.
  • Distress v.9a But when they cried out to the LORD,
  • Deliverance v.9bhe raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.

Why are they called judges? They are not judges in the sense as we understand a judge. They do not preside over a court of lands and deliberate on legal matters. They are more like military leaders. All except one is a prophet. But judges are associated with justice. And the Hebrew root word for justice is very closely related with righteousness. So these judges are the upholder of justice or in other words, the upholder of righteousness of Yahweh in a land that has became unrighteous.

 

  •  Shalom v.11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. The book of Judges, God raised up 11 judges to save his people. Each time, they were saved, there was a relative period of peace where the people turned back to the worship of Yahweh. They again they slowly drifted to worship other gods and Yahweh allow other nations to oppress the Israelites and the circle of sin began all over again.

 

How can we avoid being trapped in the circle of sin?

  • We are to take sin seriously
    • We are justified sinners. Those we have been justified in Christ, we still have the sinful nature. This is like the Israelites. The land is theirs, yet they still have to conquer it in order to occupy it. Paul acknowledged this struggle when he wrote in Rom.7:15: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. No matter how long you have been a Christian and how mature you are, you will have had this struggle with sin. St.Anthony, one of the desert Fathers, locked himself in a tomb with 12 years to struggle with himself. Someone said, we have seen the face of the enemy, it is us.
    • Confess our sins. Taking sin seriously means that it cannot be treated as a personal secret sin. It is so easy to trivialize sin but saying, “Oh, it’s forgiven’’. One of the ways to take sin seriously is to confess it to someone you can trust. He or she may be a pastor, a leader or a friend. Confession is taking sin seriously. It is said that confession is good for your soul.
    • It’s the small things that count. There is no sin so small that we can ignore it without harm to our soul. There is an interesting book I have read, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and …it’s all Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. Carlson wrote that life is made up of small things and it is these small things that count. Small sins can destroy our lives. One of the common reasons given by people who are caught for embezzlement of money is that they started small. A few dollars here and there and they get away with it. Then they get greedy and take more and more. And they get away with it so they take larger amount until he or she gets caught.

 

  • Decide to be serious with our spiritual formation.[be holy]. Control your thoughts.
    • Thoughts are neutral. We all have thoughts going through our head all the time. You are approaching a traffic light and the light is turning yellow. “You think if I press my accelerator, I can shot through the red light. Let’s do it”. That’s a thought. A thought is neutral. It’s what you decide to do with the thoughts that count.
    • You must control the thought or the thought will control you. We have to decide what we to do with them. You can ignore it, analyze it or act on it.
    • There are three elements influencing our thoughts.
      • Our unregenerate self.
      • The world
      • Satan
    • WWJD-What Will Jesus Do? Choose. Make a decision according to what you think Jesus will do. This is a good way for decision making. What would Jesus do in this situation? What are my options? Choose to follow Jesus and control your thoughts.

.

  • Watch what we expose ourselves to [garbage in/garbage out]
    • The insidious influence of the world. Closely related to our thoughts is what we allow our mind to be exposed to everyday. If we are exposed to what is good and wholesome, our thought and spiritual health is good. If we expose it to what is evil, we become evil. There is a study done on a group of 4-5 years old. They were watching television. The program was about loving one another and there were singing and dancing. The kids soon began to dance to the music. Then the program was changed to ‘Power Rangers’. Suddenly the kids began to kick and throw punches. One actually attacked another and the experiment was terminated immediately. Paul wrote in Phil.4:8  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Beware what you expose your mind to. GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.
    • Saturate our mind with the Word of God. Develop the mind of Christ. J.C.Ryle, 19th Century bishop of Liverpool defined holiness as “the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in the Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment – hating what He hates-loving what He loves-and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man.” Hence the importance of knowing the Bible.

 

  • Put on the armour of God.(Ephesians 6:13-18)

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

 

    • Belt of truth
    • Breastplate of righteousness
    • Sandals of the Gospel
    • Shield of Faith
    • Helmet of Salvation
    • Sword of the Spirit

Important to note that this armour is more for defense than offence. V.13 ‘stand your ground and after you have done everything to stand.’ In the warfare of that time, the infantry face each other and charge at each other and then engaged in man to hand combat. In London recently, I bought a novel of Simon Scarrow, The Eagle’s Prey. This is for 12 hours inflight reading back to Malaysia. Simon Scarrow is a British historian on the Roman invasion of the British isles. His novels were about the military exploits of a Roman legion in Britain in 44AD. The Roman army was then the most powerful army in the world. It was disciplined, well trained and well armed. The shield was a large shield with a gap at the right side. The innovation in warfare is what they called the ‘turtle’. Here the solders stand together and put their shield together forming a formation. With the shield together, the solders are protected from arrows, stones and spears. Those behind the first row push against the first row and move in to take their place when there is a gap in the first row. This formation is impenetrable. The enemy will break themselves against the formation. All the Roman soldiers have to do is to stand and stand firm. When the enemies pressed against the shield, they are unable to move due to those from the back who are pushing forward. The Roman soldier will use their broad swords and stab through the gap at the shield.

 I am sure this is what Paul has in mind when he use the illustration of the Roman armour to teach us how to stand against the attacks of Satan. Those who want to resist sinning will be special targets of Satan. The armour of God is the answer to the attack.

 

  • Pray [call out in distress]

The armour is not complete without prayer. The Ephesians 6 passage about the armour of God ends with prayer v.18

  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

    • It is conceit that we think we can fight against sin alone. We need help.
    • God will send a deliverer- a judge. In our passage, God sent Othniel, husband of Acsah. Othniel means ‘Lion of Judah’. God has also sent us a deliverer who is also called lion of Judah. His name is Jesus.
    • We do not have because we do not ask. Often we lose in our fight because we did not ask for God’s help.

 

  • Walk with a Community of Faith.

We are stronger as a community. As Ecclesiastes said in Ecc.4:9 -12                           

9 Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their work:

10 If one falls down,

his friend can help him up.

But pity the man who falls

and has no one to help him up!

11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

12 Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

o       Accountability. We need to develop a network of accountability to one another. I would suggest that we form ourselves into groups of two or three people. Find people you are trust and are comfortable with.

o       Agree to meet together regularly.

o       Share with one another.

o       Agree to be accountable to one another.

o        Be willing to confront one another and ask hard questions, “How is your soul?”

o       Commit to pray for one another.

    • Intercession. Praying for one another in the church. Praying for the spiritual condition of the church. Calling for help in our distress.

 

Concluding Remarks

  • The circle of sin result in us
    • Lust –drunkenness, adultery
    • Idolatry
    • Vanity
    • Jealousy
    • Anger, hatre malice, wrath, bitterness
    • Anxiety, worry depression, insecurity

The fruits of breaking the circle of sin are described in Isa 32:16-17

Justice will dwell in the desert

and righteousness live in the fertile field.

17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace;

the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

 

  • The fruit of righteousness will be peace.
  • The effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

 

How many of us can say we really feel peace in the last week. We are worried and anxious. Are we walking with Jesus or have we left Him behind somewhere and are walking in a circle of sin?

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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