How long do you wait when someone is going the wrong way? And I don’t mean in situations where no harm is done. You know, when you are out to eat and your brother gets up to go to the restroom and the whole family notices he is heading toward the ladies’ room and not the men’s. Everyone watches to see how close he comes before realizing his mistake, turning to see if anyone noticed and finds the whole family laughing. I suppose if you are mean enough to let him make it the whole way without stopping him, then harm is done. But what about when heading the wrong way is a big deal? How long do you wait if you notice the driver is heading in the opposite direction of where he should be going? Would you wait ten minutes? An hour? A day? I doubt it right. Unless you really didn’t care about that person. How long would you wait to warn someone who is heading the wrong way when it comes to their relationship with God? I would hope our answer would be as little time as possible. If you care about that person at all, even if that person is your enemy, wouldn’t love for their soul prompt us to give them a sincere warning? We wouldn’t be able to wait.
But if that is true about us, people who aren’t perfect at warning others, but we know we want to do so, can you imagine how long God can wait to do so? He can’t. He can’t wait to point out sin. That truth is well illustrated in the book of Judges and especially in our verses here. And specifically what God can’t wait to point out is this: Idolatry is stupid. It doesn’t make any sense. Consider with me what we see here. We are told, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines.”
Notice that little word “again.” This was not a first time mistake for the Israelites. In fact if you look at the book of Judges you see a constant cycle. The Israelites forsake the Lord, he calls them to repentance, they are delivered and they shortly go back to doing evil. What that means is they should have known better! They have seen this happen before to their parents and grandparents. Forsaking the Lord and worshipping false gods does not end well. And it was dumb. Think about who these gods are. They are the gods of the people who have been attacking them. They are gods that the Lord has shown again and again he has power over. Let’s go worship these gods. Are you kidding me?
But that is not the end of the foolishness. Look what happens when God sends them a warning. “And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.” God is angered by their sin. God sends them a strong rebuke in the form of the Philistine and Ammonites. And Israel waits eighteen years to repent! Think about that. Eighteen years going in the wrong direction as God calls to them through suffering. This person wasn’t even alive then. How many of us were in grade school or high school. That long! How many people were lost because they rejected God’s call to repent. How many peoples’ lives were shaped by suffering because they were going the wrong way. How foolish is idolatry.
Is ours any less foolish? You probably don’t worship the gods of Aram and the gods of the Philistines, but don’t we still worship the gods of America and the gods of the influential? Idolatry that is hidden is no less heinous. Our hearts still long after stuff, whether that shows in a desire for more in the bank or for more in my house. Do I take more joy in my Lord or my new phone? Do I wait longer on the Lord or on season tickets? Do I rejoice more in building God’s kingdom or building my home? Our heart still bows down to popularity. Are you more excited to hear that your boss is happy with you than to hear your God is pleased with you? Are you happier about a new relationship with a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend than your relationship you have with God? Our hearts bow down to pleasure. What brings you more joy? Keeping God’s commands or doing what you really like to do?
How foolish can we be? Haven’t we learned? Haven’t we seen what has happened before us? We can sit here and think, “Oh those Israelites. Don’t they know what happened two chapters earlier in Judges.” Couldn’t they say, “Oh you Christians. Didn’t you see how phony those gods were last month when that source of pleasure brought pain. Didn’t you see how empty that god was when it disappeared on you in a flash. Didn’t you see how pointless that god is since it can’t bring you lasting joy.” How long do we waste pursuing these gods? How much of our life is consumed by them? Scarier yet, what danger exists if we keep going the wrong way? What will happen to our faith when our trust rests outside of the Lord? What will happen to us when become accustomed to finding help elsewhere? How many around us are lost as they stride side by side with us after these gods?
God can’t wait. He can’t sit there and wait for you and me to figure out how foolish our idolatry is. We would continue eighteen years and beyond. So instead he takes action. He issues a warning. Notice what that warning was for Israel. He handed them over to their enemies. He allowed them to suffer. He showed them there was a problem. God does the same to us. Now, we must be careful. Here in Judges 10 we can say with authority, God handed them over to these enemies because of their sins. God tells us that here. We are not going to look at a particular suffering in our time and place and say, “Obviously here is God punishing you for this sin.” We can’t be that specific because God doesn’t tell us that. But he does tell us that he will use suffering as a wake up call for us. That sometimes when you and I end up feeding the pigs so to speak. When we hit the bottom or the bottom falls out, God is trying to bring you to your senses.
But you know what else God can’t wait for us to see? How serious he is about sin. Look at what he says when the Israelites cry out to him. “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” Whoa. If we really look at what God says here, isn’t it frightening? We just sorta assume, well when I decide to call on God everything will be fine. When I tire of putting these other things first, my time, my pleasure, my whatever, God will be ready to listen. What would you do if God suddenly said, Go and cry out to your favorite team. See if they will save you. Let your image that was all important to you deliver you from trouble. Call on your gods, see what they can do for you.
It is uncomfortable to think about God saying such things to us. But you know what? He can’t wait to say it. He can’t wait to draw our eyes to how stupid our own idolatry is. To see how foolish we were to once again forsake God to serve other things, even things like our shape or our families or our friends. He can’t wait to show you that, because it is through that truth that he is going to work. He can’t wait to work real repentance in you. No, not surface, oh I am in trouble so God now I need you, but real repentance that marks your whole life. A turning from putting other things first and a realization that God is just. That is where he led the Israelites. “But the Israelites said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord.”
God can’t wait for us to come to the same realization. I have sinned. Lord, do whatever you think is best to me because I have done what is wrong. I have put something else in your place. But Lord, deliver me. Rescue me now, for I see how much I need it. God wants to bring you and me to that point when we have sinned for one very important reason. God can’t wait to show you mercy.
“And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Wow! God couldn’t wait any longer. He couldn’t stand another moment of Israel’s suffering. He couldn’t bear it and so he sent deliverance. We aren’t even going to see that today, but God would send another judge, this one named Jephthah who would deliver his people. The Lord had taken action because he couldn’t wait for his people to return to him and finally he couldn’t wait to grab them back.
God can’t wait to deliver you. He can’t wait to show mercy to you. Yes, God is eager to show you how serious he is about sin. How very foolish we are when we look to something or someone else as our god and treat it accordingly. But he is so eager to show us this so that we realize how doomed we should be. For it is then that he comes swooping in with his salvation. He can’t wait to rescue you! He couldn’t wait to rescue you from your sins and so he took action. For some of you, he couldn’t stand to wait another moment and so he rushed to put his name on you in your baptism as one redeemed from sin and lifted from condemnation. For some of you, he couldn’t stand the thought of another moment with you lost in sin and so his Holy Spirit shined in your heart and brought you to trust in him. For the world, every last person in his creation, he couldn’t wait to redeem and so from before the creation of the world he planned to send the Lamb of God, who at just the right moment was sacrificed for every single serious sin. God can’t wait to show mercy.
He can’t wait to deliver you either. He does not delight in our sufferings. While he may use them for our highest good he knows when we need rescue. He knows when he must step in and perhaps miraculously grant us relief. More often he removes the oppression of sorrow in more natural ways. A caring friend. A well prescribed medicine. A new option. And yes, sometimes he removes us from suffering because he can’t wait any longer to have us with him forever. Whatever the case may be, understand how your God operates with you. He can’t wait for you and me to figure out how scarring our sins truly are. He can’t wait for us to simply decide on our own to give them up. He takes action. He uses suffering. He loves enough to call out. And he will continue to do so in your life, because he can’t help himself. He can’t wait to show you mercy. Amen.