Is there a better way?

Judges 10:6-16 “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. . . And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.’ And the Lord said to the people of Israel, ‘Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to Me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.’  And the people of Israel said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.”

Have you ever found that the Word of God was difficult to read because of the hard things it said to you?  Have you ever been down and out, turned to the Word to find comfort, and found words of judgment instead?  I have. There have been times when difficulty has come into my life, and my reaction has only made the situation worse because I reacted with fear and unbelief rather than faith.  I’ve reacted in a way that is anything but the way a believer should react, and the fact that God has always been faithful to me in the past doesn’t seem to stop my slide. It’s not a good thing. 

Thankfully, God in His mercy has given us examples in His Word to show us that we are not alone in such failures, for as we have done, so have other people of God.  That’s not a good thing, but it’s true.  One such example is the case of the nation of Israel in the account above from Judges 10.  Here, despite God’s deliverance time after time when Israel fell into sin, in spite of His forgiveness, in spite of the dire consequences that came upon them when they failed to serve the Lord, they turned away from Him yet again.  However, this time, unlike the times in the past, God’s answer was one of judgment.  In essence, He tells them that He’s tired of their repeated failures in the face of His mercy, and this time He would save them no more! What a devastating answer to their prayers. What a hopeless situation they were in – and it was all through no one’s fault but their own. 

But note their response to God’s mocking reply of “go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”   What would you have done in that situation? Would you have turned your back and walked away?  Indeed, that’s what many people do when they face the consequences of their own sin. They get bitter at God, reject Him, and turn away.  But what did Israel do? Notice that they again confessed their sin. They acknowledged that they were worthy of nothing but judgment.  But rather than turn away, they continued to seek deliverance. More than that, they turned away from the gods they had been serving and began to again serve the Lord.  It was at that time that God relented, and we later find that He raised up yet another judge to deliver them. 

You see, Israel, in their distress, had an attitude that they would follow God no matter what.  Despite their failures and regardless of whether God would deliver them or not, they were going to serve Him.  To their credit, they knew that to turn away, no matter the consequences, made no sense at all. 

I’m reminded of the time that Jesus said some very difficult things to the crowds who were following Him that are recorded in the gospel of John. He told them “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  Most of the people who heard these words responded with “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Then they turned away.  It was then that Jesus asked the 12 apostles, “Do you want to go away as well?” But then Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69). I am certain that Peter and the other apostles didn’t understand what Jesus was saying any more than those who turned away. Nevertheless, they continued to follow Christ, for they knew that there was no other way. 

And so, there is a lesson for all believers. When we fail, when we feel condemning thoughts as a result, when we turn to Scripture for words of hope, but they seem to only condemn us more, when we don’t understand and we are at our wit’s end, what should we do? What can we do?  The obvious answer is, just keep pressing on. Just repent if that is what’s called for and resolve to keep on serving the Lord.

When we don’t understand and God’s Word doesn’t make sense, the fact is that nothing else will ever prove to be any better. Indeed, any other alternative is inestimably worse.  May God give us the heart of Job who, when his world was crashing down around him and God seemed to have become his enemy rather than his friend, when his own wife counseled him to give up, curse God and die, He replied, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). You see, no other alternative ever really makes sense.

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