“CAUTION URGED IN THE CONFLICT”

Judges 20.26

 

EXPOSITION:

1.   Our country is involved in something that our Church has been involved in for a long time . . . war.  Throughout the Bible the Christian life is shown to be an ongoing spiritual warfare against the forces of darkness.[1]

2.   Indeed, the Christian life simply cannot be rightly understood apart from its likeness to warfare and conflict.[2] And why is this so?  Because the Christian life is a life of spiritual warfare and conflict.  It is a life of battles and skirmishes, a life of tactics and strategy against a more intelligent and more powerful foe.  But it is a life whose end must be victory.[3]

3.   Because every Christian is involved in this spiritual warfare, and because our country is now involved in a war, I feel that it is needful for me to address you concerning a subject that would do you, would do your family, would do our Church, and would do our country a great deal of good; the subject of fasting.

4.   My text for this morning is Judges 20.26.  Please stand and read along with me while I read aloud this first place in God’s Word where fasting is mentioned as a means of obtaining help from God:[4]

“Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.”

 

5.   “The first stage in serious Bible study is to consider the larger context within which a passage is found.  Unless we can grasp the whole before attempting to dissect the parts, interpretation is doomed from the start.  Statements simply have no meaning apart from their context.”[5]

6.   I urge you to read on your own Judges 19 and Judges 20.1-28.  That long passage is crucial to a right understanding of today’s text.

7.   Since Phinehas is the high priest, verse 28, we know that the great tragedy about which I will speak struck the Israelites within just a few years after the Jews arrived in the Promised Land, and no doubt soon after the death of Joshua.

8.   Let me rehearse Judges 19 and 20.  A Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, has a concubine who plays the whore.  In other words, he is living with a woman he is not married to, and (surprise of surprises) she is not faithful to him.  Her father is foolish enough to allow her to come back home, something a father will allow a promiscuous daughter to do only if he wants to be an enabler of such wicked behavior, but the Levite is even more foolish in going after her to get her back.

9.   On the way back to his home the Levite stopped off and partied.  While he was having a good time some men assaulted his concubine and in the process of having their way with her killed her.  When he discovered her dead body he took it the rest of the way to his home and then cut her body into twelve pieces and sent one piece to each tribe of Israel, as a way of summoning them to an emergency meeting.

10. There it was demanded that the tribe of Benjamin turn over the men who had brutalized the concubine, but they refused.  So, the other tribes asked God what to do and He told them.  Though the tribes heavily outnumbered the Benjamites they lost 22,000 men in the first battle and 18,000 men in the second battle.

11. 26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 27 And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?  And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand.”

12. What can we learn from our text?  What can you learn as an individual?  What can we learn as a Church?  And what lessons might be learned by our country?

 

1A.   First, YOU CAN BE ON THE SIDE OF RIGHT

1B.    Other than the tribe of Benjamin, the tribes of Israel were in the right.  A woman was brutally murdered.  They demanded that the guilty men be turned over for punishment.  The Benjamites refused.  They did not deny that the woman had been brutally murdered.  They simply refused.  It was the other tribes who were in the right.  And how right were they?  Two times they had sought direction from the LORD.  Two times the LORD had given them direction.  How much more on the right side can you be?

2B.    Consider our country, now at war.  When in the history of mankind has a country engaged in a military offensive ever tried so hard to minimize civilian casualties?  How many countries throughout history have ever engaged in warfare in such a selfless way as our country?  Europe begged us to enter World War 1.  Europe begged us to enter World War 2.  Southeast Asian countries begged us to enter the Vietnam conflict.  And in the Gulf War in 1991 and the present conflict, we engaged in conflicts of liberation, first to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, and now to liberate the Iraqi people from being enslaved by the Saddam Hussein regime.  Unless we do something terribly foolish over the next few months, I think history will judge us well for what we are presently doing as a nation, as well as how we are doing it.

3B.    Now consider our Church.  Our marching order is the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We exist as a congregation to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We strive to make use of the sanctioned means of preaching, of praying, of compelling sinners to come in, of guiding to Christ those who seek to enter in, and then baptizing and training those who give evidence of a genuine conversion experience.  Who is on the Lord’s side?  We are on the Lord’s side, the side of right, the side of truth, the side of God.

 

2A.   Second, YOU CAN HAVE THE SUPERIOR MIGHT

1B.    The tribes that were arrayed against the Benjamites numbered 400,000 men of war.  The Benjamites numbered 26,000 soldiers, plus 700 sling throwers.  Your calculator will tell you that that’s an almost 15-to-1 superiority.  Back in the days when weapons were made of bronze and stone and leather it was superior numbers that determined military might.  Clearly, then, the Israelites were not only in the right, but they had the might to defeat their stubborn brothers, the Benjamites.

2B.    Now consider our country’s military might.  We have the most powerful military that the world has ever seen.  With the technological advantages that we have, with the superior training that we have, with overwhelming superiority in logistics (perhaps the most underrated of all military factors in determining the outcome of a campaign), it is only the profound ignorance of the Iraqi regime that leaves them with any hope of withstanding an American military assault.  As a matter of fact, except for some recent developments I have not yet personally verified, the most casualties suffered by our military in the conflict seem to have come as a result of a single soldier standing guard who decided to lob a few hand grenades into a tent and then shoot himself in the leg to cover-up his actions.[6]  What kind of military superiority over the Iraqi forces must we have when our greatest casualties in this war have so far come from non-combat helicopter accidents and a crazy soldier attacking his own comrades?

3B.    Turning our considerations to this Church’s ministry, what can be said about our capacity to wage war against our spiritual foe and engage him in spiritual battle?  The apostle Paul declared that “the weapons of our warfare are . . . mighty through God.”[7]  As well, the Gospel which we preach is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”[8]  So, not only do we have the authorization that is granted by the Son of God, Himself, to aggressively pursue our ministry, but we also have access to incomprehensible spiritual might.  Remember, “The king’s heart is in the hand of” our “LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will,” Proverbs 21.1.

 

3A.   BUT BEING ON THE SIDE OF RIGHT, AND HAVING SUPERIOR MIGHT, GUARANTEES NOTHING

1B.    The eleven tribes of Israel that engaged the Benjamites in battle were on the right side of the issue, and had God’s directive to engage the stubborn Benjamites in battle.  As well, they had overwhelming military superiority.  But they lost to the Benjamites on two occasions, first losing 22,000 men, and then losing 18,000 men.  “But I thought God told them to attack the Benjamites.”  He did, and it was God’s will that they attacked the Benjamites.  But being on the right side and having superior might is no guarantee of success, as we have read in God’s Word.

2B.    This is why I am concerned about our military.  This is why, beyond the purely military aspect of this conflict, I am concerned about our country.  My friends, our country is on the right side of this situation.  Our country is also orders of magnitude more powerful in every measurable and conceivable way than our adversaries.  But might and right does not guarantee success.  It is possible to win a battle, or to win a campaign, and still lose the war.  Many of you folks do not realize that we won the Vietnam war, but we lost the peace.  Oh, yes.  You may consider disputing what I say, but take my word for it.  We won the Vietnam war.[9]  We just lost the peace.  And we may very well win this war, yet lose the peace that follows.

3B.    Stay with me as we focus our attention on our Church, before brother Isenberger comes.  Are we on the right side?  Are we on God’s side?  I am convinced to the depths of my soul that we are.  Do we have access to the infinite power of Almighty God to seek the salvation of the lost?  I am convinced to the depths of my soul that we do.  But we are not seeing it happen.  We are not getting it done.  If we compare ourselves to the Churches in Asia in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we would find ourselves being warned by the Lord Jesus Christ to repent , or else.  You see, being on the right side and having might is no guarantee of success.  And we are not succeeding.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   The Israelites were supremely confident going into battle.  But they lost 22,000 brothers and cousins.  These were 22,000 men they had grown up with, had played with as children.  These were 22,000 men whose wives and children they would have to face when they got back home.

2.   So, they asked God for direction once again and made another run at it.  The second time, against the same greatly outnumbered opponent, who was on the wrong side of the issue, they lost another 18,000 men.  What would they say to the mothers of these friends they had lost?  What would they say to their wives and to their little brothers and sisters when they got home?  How were they to account for such loses?  Something was terribly wrong.

3.   It is not likely to be the same way with our military in the war against Iraq.  I suspect that we will win this campaign.  But what will we do with the peace?  Will we inflame the Islamic world?  Will it set off terrorist strikes against our soldiers and other military personnel?  Will they strike again here in our country?  You know, of course, that our military personnel are not allowed to prominently display American flags for fear of inciting riots or offending moslems in the middle east, don’t you?

4.   Folks, it was our presence in Saudi Arabia to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the first Gulf War that so enraged Osama bin Laden that he was radicalized against the United States.  How many more nut cases like him will be set off by our attempts to liberate the Iraqi people from the madman Hussein?  Being in the right and having the might doesn’t always guarantee success over the long term.

5.   And what about our own ministry here at Calvary Road Baptist Church?  Are we reaching as many lost people as we should?  As many as we could?  Are we having the impact on the lost who attend our Church that we should?  Are we seeing our own children come to Christ as we should?  Are we seeing our children want to become Christians?

6.   Again, being on the right side and having the might does not guarantee success.  We saw it with the Israelites in their conflict with the tribe of Benjamin.  We can imagine it happening to our country in this conflict with Iraq.  We are seeing this in our own efforts to bring sinners to Christ.  What is wrong?  What is missing?

7.   We will address this question after brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   May I say to you that I am not speaking to you in a spirit of criticism?  May I say to you that I am motivated by concern for your children, for the lost among us, for our Church, and for the cause of Christ?

2.   “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God,” First Peter 4.17.  If things do not happen the way we think they ought to happen, if it seems as though being in the right and having the might does not ensure success, then perhaps we should consider the possibility that something is missing, that something is terribly wrong, that maybe there is sin in the camp.

3.   Let us review.

 

1A.   First, WE ARE ON THE LORD’S SIDE

1B.    There could be no doubt that the eleven tribes of Israel that attacked the Benjamites were in the right and the Benjamites were in the wrong.  After all, the men who attacked the concubine were Benjamites and the Benjamites would not turn them over for punishment.  As well, the eleven tribes did have authorization from God to attack.  They were in the right.

2B.    There can be no doubt in my mind, as well, that our country is in the right.  A nation is charged by God with protecting the citizenry from attack and to punish those who do wrong.  That is what is happening in Iraq as I speak.  Our country is protecting us from those who would harm us and at the same time is liberating an oppressed populace.  Though there are many things wrong with the United States of America, such as legalized abortion on demand and the purging of God from our public schools, it is the freest society the world has ever seen and a nation singularly blessed by God.

3B.    As well, I believe our Church preaches the straight and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We believe that sinners deserve Hellfire and that Jesus saves by grace through faith.  We believe that Jesus is the only Savior of sinful men’s souls, that He is risen from the dead and presently at the right hand of the Father on high, and that all who come to Him are accepted by Him.  I think that many Churches muddle the Gospel and do not take care to guide sinners to Christ, but I think we are on the right side on this issue.  I think we are on the Lord’s side.

 

2A.   Next, THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE ARE MIGHTY

1B.    Israel had overwhelming military dominance over the Benjamites.  As I mentioned earlier, they outnumbered their foes by a margin of almost 15-to-1, an amazing superiority in the field in those days, or at any other time in history.

2B.    Our country faces a similarly outclassed adversary.  Our soldiers and Marines have advanced weaponry, including night vision goggles, Kevlar body armor, support from artillery and helicopters and jet aircraft.  Our soldiers always know where they are, with global positioning equipment.  And our forces are backed up by the most advanced logistics and field hospital support the world has ever seen.  Our opponents are mostly armed with pistols, are cut off from their commanders, are under trained, and appear to be malnourished.

3B.    As for our Church’s field of battle, we are well equipped.  A quick look at Ephesians 6, beginning with verse 10, reveals that we have the power of God’s might and the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  Our loins are girt about with truth.  We have the breastplate of righteousness.  Our feet are shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.  We hold the shield of faith, with which we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  As well, we have the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  To top it off, we have the weapon of prayer, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.

 

3A.   BUT WE HAVE BEEN RELATIVELY POWERLESS AND INEFFECTIVE

1B.    Are you satisfied with the level of victory we seem to be seeing in our quest for the souls of men?  Do you see lost men overcome by the fear of the Lord, deeply troubled by the condition of their souls before God, crying out to God for mercy and pleading for grace?  It has been a while since I have seen these things in our midst.

2B.    Although I am convinced that the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God, I must admit to being frustrated in my desire to see strong holds pulled down in the lives of sinners.  I want to see imaginations cast down.  I long for men’s thoughts to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

3B.    I must admit to being able to identify with the Israelites after they had lost 22,000 men in battle against an inferior foe.  I sometimes feel shaken by the fact that we have suffered defeats in spiritual conflict that are comparable to losing 18,000 to the Benjamites, who are on the wrong side of the issue and who have inferior troops.  I am frustrated.

4B.    “But pastor, we pray and ask God to bless us.  We pray two or three times a week, as well as many of us praying every day for God’s blessings, and for the souls of our loved ones.”  Yes, but that is comparable to the Israelites asking God for direction.

5B.    Judges 20.18:  “And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin?  And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first.”  Then they promptly lost 22,000 men.

6B.    Judges 20.23:  “(And the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until even, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?  And the LORD said, Go up against him.)”  Then they promptly lost 18,000 men.

7B.    It was at this point that the Israelites seemed to understand what was missing.  They had everything they needed from God, but they didn’t really want God.  It was at this point, Judges 20.26, that they met with God rather than just asking from God:  “Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.”

8B.    The entire army of Israel came to Shiloh, came to where the Tabernacle was, and wept, and sat before the LORD, and fasted throughout the entire day, and dealt with their personal sins.  This is what had been missing from Israel’s preparations.  This is what is missing from our country’s preparations.  And this is what is missing from our Church’s preparations.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   Please turn to Exodus 33.  Read verses 14-16 with me:

14     And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.

15     And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.

16     For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.

 

2.   In Judges 20, the Israelites were in the right and had the might, but still lost.  Being in the right and having the might is no guarantee.  It was no guarantee for the Israelites.  It is no guarantee for our armed forces.  And it is no guarantee for our Church.  We can be in the right and have the might, but still miserably and utterly fail.

3.   Moses put his finger on the real issue when he said to God, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.  For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.”

4.   How will it be known that we have found grace in God’s sight apart from the real presence of God in our

      midst?  This is what distinguishes us from all the people who are on the face of the earth.

5.   Recognizing that they did not enjoy God’s presence as they ought, what did those Israelites do?  Judges 20.26.  They came to the house of God.  They wept and sat there before the LORD.  They fasted that day until the evening.  And they offered sacrifices for their sins.

6.   When they did those things, when they restored their communion with God, He granted them success to do what He wanted them to do.

7.   I call upon our Church to fast throughout the day next Saturday.  Water only all day Saturday.  Then come to the house of God for evangelism.  At that time we will sit before the LORD.  Then we will pray to God regarding our sins.  Then we will go out.  Then you will go home to break your fast.  If you are a diabetic or have other blood sugar problems you can fast sleep instead of fasting food; do without sleep instead of doing without food.

8.   Do you want God to protect someone in uniform?  Then fast and pray with us next Saturday.  Is there a loved one, a relative, a friend you would like to see converted?  Then fast and pray with us next Saturday.  Do you want to see some kind of spiritual breakthrough?  Then fast and pray with us next Saturday.

9.   Judges 20.26 is the first time in God’s Word fasting is resorted to as a means of seeking God’s help to overcome defeat and secure victory.  Let us learn from them.  Let us fast and pray for our country.  Let us fast and pray for the lost.  Let us fast and pray for our Church.


[1] First Timothy 1.18

[2] Ephesians 6.11-17;  Second Timothy 2.3-4

[3] First Corinthians 15.57

[4] Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[5] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991), page 19.

[6] “Serviceman Held in Fatal Grenade Attack,” Los Angeles Times, page A-7, Sunday, March 23, 2003.

[7] Second Corinthians 10.4

[8] Romans 1.16

[9] Richard M. Nixon, Real Peace; No More Vietnams, (New  York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1990), page 278.

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