Thorns In a Nation's Side
A study from the book of Judges
We’re going to take a “Digging Deeper” look into the first parable ever to appear in Scripture. Not one of Jesus’ parables—for this one occurs in the book of Judges. As we take a brief tour through a portion of this book, mindful that the principles of God never change, keep this question in mind:
What message does this parable have for you and for our nation?
We’ll come to the parable in a moment, but first we must understand the setting: a dark period in the history of God’s people. He has led them into the Promised Land under Moses and then Joshua’s leadership.
Turn to Judges Chapter one. Read verses 27-33.
1. At the beginning of verses 27, 29, 30, 31 and 33, what two words appear over and over again? ____________ ___________
2. Manasseh, Dan, Asher, Napthali, Ephraim, and Zebulun—all named in these verses—are Hebrew tribes. What was it that these Israelites repeatedly failed to do? _____________________________________
3. Just a few verses later, in Judges 2:1-2, God Himself (in the person of “the ANGEL of the Lord”) appears on the scene. What is He angry about? ____________________________________
4. We have often heard it said, “Incomplete obedience is disobedience.” What does the Lord say will be the result of their failure to completely obey Him? ______________________________________________
5. Often we experience in our own lives the natural consequences of our disobedience. Can you think of a time when you failed to do something and reaped the “natural consequences”? _________________________________________
For these Israelites, freshly settled in their land, the consequences were both natural and spiritual:
- Natural—they had to put up with the worst possible neighbors: wicked and hostile.
- Spiritual—Their neighbors’ lifestyles and worship practices began to seep into the lives of God’s people.
6. Count the number of times you see the words “would dwell” or “dwelt” in verses 27-33. ________. The New King James Version uses the words “determined to.” These godless tribes were “determined to” stay put and not give the children of Israel the land God Himself had given them.
7. Can you think of things in your life—forces, habits, influences—“determined to” dwell with you and keep you from the life God wants for you? List some here:
8. In the life of our nation, what ungodly forces or influences come to your mind, which are “determined to” capture this nation, both physically and spiritually?
9. The people of God have not gotten off to their best start in the land because of their disobedience. Nevertheless (read Judges 2:7), what did the people manage to do in spite of all that? ________________________________________
10. Then an event occurred in verses 7, 8 and 9. What happened?
11. Who “arose after them”? (v. 10) ___________________________________
The parallel between the nation of Israel and the United States is too clear to be missed. We had a generation in our time—some have called it “the greatest generation”—who fought for freedom in World War II. News sources report they are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day. Not all were followers of Christ, of course, but it was a generation that for the most part gave honor and respect to godly principles.
11. Read Judges 2:11-15. Now the people, slipping into the ways of the ungodly around them, “_________________the God of their ______________.”
12. “Nevertheless,” (verse 18) in His mercy, God did what for them?
- Raised up _________________.
- ________________ them out of the _____________ of their _____________.
13. In spite of His merciful rescue of the people once again, what did they do (v. 19)? ______________________________________
Here is the story of a nation in decline and disarray. Judges Chapter 3 relates the cycle: the people follow God as long as they have a godly leaderàas soon as he dies, they return to evil practicesàthings get so bad they cry out to God once againàin His mercy, He rescues them.
The Apostasy of an Unthankful People
In Judges 6:11-8:28, we have the story of Gideon and the miraculous victory God gave the nation through him. But as soon as that passed, the people went right back to apostasy.
You would think the people would be so grateful they would never ever again turn from God. But see Judges 8:33-34:
33And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again…34And the children of Israel remembered _______ the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side.”
God had given them a wonderful victory and verse 34 says they forgot it. You say, “That would never happen here.” Are you sure?
On Saturday, February 23, 1991, the war known as “Desert Storm” began. The news reported ten thousand “body bags” being shipped to the area to prepare for the worst. We prayed, “Oh God, help us! We don’t want to get into a war with our boys over there in the sands of Iraq! We don’t want that! Oh, God, have mercy.”
The next day, Sunday, when I stood in the pulpit, I asked, “Where did all these people come from?” Attendance was up 25%—people coming to the house of God to seek His face. It became known as the “100-Hour War” because of how quickly it ended. Rather than giving God the praise and glory, the following Sunday, attendance dropped to its previous level! Not long after, our nation entered a period where the floodgates of immorality were opened—even in some of the highest offices of the land.
The Arrogance of an Ungodly Leader
As soon as godly Gideon dies, his son Abimelech arises, an inexperienced but proud and arrogant young man lacking a track record of leadership. But he wanted control. Turn to Judges Chapter 9 and read his ruthless rise to power in verses 1-6.
First, Abimelech had an unholy ambition to lead the country. The first thing he did was build a coalition. He went to his friends and said, “Listen, I'm one of you.”
14. Secondly, he bought his constituents.
From whom did Abimelech receive his money?_____________________________
Where did the 70 pieces of silver come from ? _____________________________
15. Thirdly, he brutalized his competition.
How did Abimelech make sure he had no one running against him? ____________ ______________________________________________________________________
16. Lastly, he was inaugurated by a show of religion.
They held the ceremony “by the plain of the _______________ that was in Shechem.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE PILLAR IN SHECHEM
Some translations say, “by the great tree in Shechem.” Most believe this refers to the place where God spoke to Abraham and gave Abraham the Covenant—an honored memorial spot for the children of Israel. Abimelech was attempting to associate himself with things that were good and holy and with God’s covenant to Abraham.
Imagine, if you will, what a holy God must feel when a man like this rises to power with money stained by immorality and the blood of innocents on his hands.
The Power of a Parable
Now we come to the parable (Judges 9:7-15). Read this in your Bible as a brave prophet named Jotham stands and speaks.
“Once upon a time,” he says, “the trees went forth to find a king to rule over them.”
17. First they went to the _______________ tree. But he was too busy making ________ to accept the leadership role.
18. Then the trees approached the ________ tree. What was his reason for not assuming leadership? ____________________________________________
19. The trees then approach the __________. But his excuse was that he needed to continue producing his new_______________, “which cheers both God and men.”
20. Lastly—in their desperation—the trees approach a ____________________. They say to it, “You come and reign over us!”
The bramble is more than happy to! You can almost see the smirk on the bramble’s face as he says to them (v. 15) “Come, take shelter in my shade. As a matter of fact, you can rest in my shade; I’ll be a shadow for you.”
The only problem with that is: a bramble has no shade! It offers no real comfort!
Can you imagine a bramble being a shade tree? A bramble has no fruit. It offers nothing but thorns. It rips. It shreds. It chokes. It clings. It grows. Far from providing shade or preserving freedom, it twists its way around a healthy plant and takes away its freedom! And it’s very hard to root out. But the people fled their responsibilities and let the bramble rule.
In this brief study in Judges, we see that Judges is not just what God has said. It is what God is saying. Judges has an underlying theme. See Judges 17:6.
“In those days there was no king in Israel and _____________ __________ did that which was ____________ in his _______ _______.”
There was no fixed standard of morality.
Today, every politician will stand up and talk about values, but when you ask “Whose values?” he fumbles. He doesn’t know where to get a standard for values. In other words, it’s “morality by majority,” no fixed values.
We have a government today run by polls: find out what people want, then give it to them. Can you imagine Moses taking a poll in the wilderness? Can you imagine Martin Luther taking a poll at the Reformation? That’s not leadership.
- We’ve gone from authority to relativism.
- We’ve moved from truth to pragmatism. No longer do we ask, “Is it true?” We ask, “Does it work?”
- We’ve gone from convictions to opinions. Few people have really have convictions about anything except their right to be happy.
America is in a crisis of leadership. We desperately need godly leadership. Someone once said, “If the gold rust, what shall the iron do?” That is, if those in leadership don’t lead, then what’s going to happen?
This is what happened in Israel’s past before. It was a serious situation. But I do not want the people of God to despair, because the book of Judges shows that God had rather forgive than judge. He is a God of mercy.
We must not believe that there can be no renaissance…no revival, no restoration. There can be, and we dare not lose hope. People of God have been—and must be—staining heaven with the tears of their prayers!
It’s time to press the battle to the gates. Let us take our nation for Jesus.