Judges 2:6-23 Judges Sermon # 3
“In Wrath Remember Mercy: God’s Parental Heart toward Wayward Children”
May 28, 2017 Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Introduction: Parents’ pain, and God’s grief, over their wayward children.
Why is it that children of believers in Jesus Christ often turn their backs on the faith of their parents? How is it possible that those who have grown up in a God-fearing home abandon Christianity? Why do many of those who have both heard and seen the gospel in their mother and father walk away from the Lord? I know that over half of us in this congregation have experienced this heartbreak with at least one or more of our children. Even if this has not been your experience, you know other parents who are suffering because of this.
As parents know, this is perhaps the hardest thing a Christian mother and father can go through. And when it happens, some parents can blame themselves; others get angry at God; while many continue to pray and wait on the Lord. Of course, we should remind ourselves that the final results won’t be in, until after we have passed into eternity.
What does this have to do with the book of Judges? Well, in Judges 2:6-23, we get a glimpse into the heart of God, as we see the next generation of His own children abandon Him, so they can worship and serve false gods. God is showing us, as hurting parents, that He Himself is the ultimate parent in pain, as He see His own children forsaking Him and walking away from the faith of their parents. The book of Judges gives us an opportunity to enter into God’s heart, and to feel with Him, as He grieves over the waywardness of His own children.
What we find in Judges is that there is no easy solution nor simple explanation as to why the next generation forsakes the Lord. Why not? Because all sin, at its core, is always stupid; rebellion against the King of kings is always irrational.
Yet what we can also see in Judges is the encouraging truth that even when people deserve God’s punishment, He is quick to show grace. Over and over again in the book of Judges, we see that our great and gracious God rescues the rebels, though they do not deserve it. He mercifully sends saviors to the sinners, though they have forsaken Him. Indeed, as the Prophet Habakkuk cries out, “In wrath remember mercy,” and this is what the Lord does here in the time of the Judges. So let’s see how this plays out in Judges 2, as we apply the principles here to parenting today.
Please note: I am narrowly focusing on the problem and the heartache that believing parents experience when their adult children reject the Christian faith. This is not meant to ignore the promises of God that should encourage parents, or the commands of God that should direct parents, nor the power of God to turn the most incorrigible adult child back to the Lord. All those things are true. But just as God was grieved by this next generation forsaking Him, so too it is worthwhile to consider what that means for us as parents in pain.
First, in 2:6-9, the writer of Judges gives us a review, a flashback, to give the background for the story of the Judges. Here we see what God is doing behind the scenes as the action unfolds through the stories of the 12 judges.
6 “After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
This generation had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel: All of them were under 20 years of age when God had opened the Red Sea and let them escape Pharaoh’s army; they had eaten of the miraculous manna in the wilderness for four decades; they had seen the Lord open up the Jordan River so they could walk through it on dry land; and they had seen the Lord bring down the imposing walls of Jericho, with a trumpet blast! They had seen the hand of the living God and they responded by serving the Lord and trusting Him. And that’s how we think it should be with every generation of those who know God’s works, right?
But then the next generation arose, who had not witnessed these mighty acts:
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook (abandoned) the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.”
So while the original generation that entered the Promised Land was generally faithful, the next generations were faithless. Faithless! What a great tragedy! What a heartbreak for the Lord!
Why did this happen? And what can we as parents learn, if our children, the next generation, forsake the Lord, as these people did? There are four truths we need to embrace from Judges 2:
First, we must accept that saving faith is not automatically passed on to our children… (and therefore we must bow before God’s sovereignty in election.)
The generation who were Joshua’s contemporaries had a personal knowledge of God’s saving work. As those under 20 years of age, they had gone through the Red Sea and through the Jordan River. But the following generation of Israel, while (1) they received the sign of God’s covenant (circumcision), and (2) they would have been instructed in the ways and the Words of the Lord, yet they did not make the faith that was passed on to them their own.
This had to be sobering and humbling for the dying generation of Israel back then, and it is equally troubling for Christian parents and grandparents today. Please note that this is a cross-denominational problem. That is, this rejection of the parent’s faith is something that happens to those who baptize their infants and to those who dedicate them. You will find this in Presbyterian churches and Baptist churches; it will happen in Reformed congregations, fundamentalist churches, and in Charismatic churches. No church or denomination has a special solution which automatically keeps the next generation faithful to Jesus Christ.
Our Expectations as Christian Parents
And yet, despite this hard reality, we often have this expectation that if we are believers in Jesus; if we pray for our children, if we raise them up in the nurture of the Lord and the wisdom of God’s Word; if we model Christ to them; if we send them to Sunday school, youth group, and Christian school…. then they ought to share in the faith we have, right? Isn’t this what we expect will happen, as the general rule?
But the quick turning away of this generation in Judges 2 tells us otherwise. And it’s not just here in Judges. For we frequently read of times where a god-fearing saint in the Old Testament saw his or her adult children walk away from the Lord. Think of the wicked sons of Eli the priest; or of King David’s sons committing rape, murder, and usurping the throne; or of how godly King Hezekiah was followed by his wicked son Manasseh. You eventually understand that God has no grandchildren. God has no grandchildren. No one inherits his or her parent’s faith automatically. Why not? Because each child, even the one born to godly parents, is conceived as a rebellious sinner with a bent will. Each son and daughter who grows up in the church is born with a depraved nature, and is an idol maker and a covenant breaker.
Therefore, if that is true, then it is only because of the sovereign mercy of our God that any of our children are saved at all! It is only because of the electing grace of our Lord that any of our adult children continues in the faith! It is only because of His sovereign love that any of us are rescued from eternal damnation and adopted as His children!
So instead of expecting that all our children will follow in the ways of the Lord, and being angry or depressed when they don’t, we should humbly bow before our sovereign God, and be amazed that any of our children should be the undeserving recipients of His saving grace!
As Isaac Watts put it in his hymn: “Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there’s room, while thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come? Twas the same love that spread the feast, that sweetly drew us in; else we had still refused to taste, and perished in our sin.” (How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place) It is only of God’s mercy that you and I, and any of our children, have been rescued from hell, to be with Him forever in heaven
Second, each child, each generation, is accountable for their response to the Lord
Compare Joshua’s Generation with the Next Generation:
Joshua’s Generation: Next Generation:
Saw the works of the Lord (7) Did not know what God had done (10)
Knew what the Lord had done for Israel Did not know the Lord (10) (Joshua 24:7, 31)
Obeyed and served the Lord (7, 17) Did evil and served pagan gods (11, 13)
Didn’t listen to God or the judges (17, 20)
What happened? Why did this second generation have spiritual amnesia, so that they forgot all that the Lord had done and all He had told them about Himself and His great works?
Here’s where Romans 1 comes in. Romans 1:19-25 gives us some commentary on Judges 2. God tells us that this second generation, like all people, both suppressed the truth about God and exchanged the truth of the real, redeeming God for the nature gods who dominated life around them. Adult children who turn their backs on Jesus Christ are deliberately suppressing what they know about Him, so that they can live the way they want to, without His claim on their lives. Furthermore, they not only suppress and hold down the truth of the Gospel; they also exchange that precious truth for a pack of lies which they think supports their foolish choice. It’s as if they took the gospel treasures from the parent’s homes and went to the pawn shop, where they exchanged those precious truths for some loose change to buy cheap candy.
For the Israelites, the new gods of Canaan seemed exciting and fresh, and so they quickly forgot all they had heard from their parents and grandparents about the living God, suppressing that truth and exchanging it for lies… and they tried to live on the basis of those lies.
We are also told that this next generation loved the world more than the Lord. Judges 2:11 and 13 tell us that they forsook the Lord and the served the Baals. Who were these gods, these idols, of the Canaanites? They were the gods of fertility and sex, involving sacred prostitution. The worship of these gods was sensuous and debased, and included child sacrifice. Sacred prostitution was practiced in the temples, as part of their worship. And because Israel had not driven out the idolatrous Canaanites, there was no clear dividing line between them. Israel had lost its distinctiveness and thus crossed over, more and more, into this pagan worship. While their parents had a soldier’s mindset in engaging the pagan nations, their sons and daughters adopted a vacationer’s mindset toward this wicked culture.
In every one of these things, the next generation was fully responsible for their actions. They chose Baal over the Lord; they loved the world more than God’s Word; they chose to ignore the godly instruction they had received from the parents in favor doing what they wanted to do. And every one of these choices had consequences.
If you are a young person, a young adult, who has grown up in a God-fearing family, let me ask you: what life choices are you making, and are those choices built upon the truth you know is true, or on the lies you are tempted to give into? Your choices have eternal consequences.
Third, we must acknowledge that God’s purposes for our children are higher than ours
Put yourself in the sandals of the aging parents of Joshua’s generation: They would have seen the signs of their children – and grandchildren – forsaking the Lord, compromising with the pagan culture, being drawn into ungodly lifestyles, marrying pagans, and so forth. And how do you imagine they felt about this? They probably said things like: “Lord, do something about this!” “This isn’t what we expected!” “It’s all going bad… everything we worked for and prayed for and believed God for is going down the drain, because our children are forsaking the Lord!”
But we need to remember something very important: as parents, we have neither the right nor the ability to control our children’s destiny. We must relinquish our “rights” over our children. The Lord’s ways and plans are higher and better than our ways and plans (Isaiah 55:10-11), and that includes the salvation of our children.
You know, some parents struggle with infertility, and then God gives them children, whether through natural means or through adoption, and they feel that all is well with the world. But then those prayed-for, much-desired children grow up and walk away from the Lord and get into trouble with drugs, sex, and other issues…. And then they wonder: “How can this be? This is not what I planned for!” Face it: as parents, we want to have the final word on how our children turn out, especially their faith response to the Gospel. We want to be God over our children’s ultimate destiny, right?
Christian Psychiatrist John White wrote a book in 1979 called Parents in Pain. He related how he once asked himself the question, as he and his wife were desiring another child, (after four years): “Was I willing, like God, to give the gift of life whatever the consequences might be, no matter how my child might choose to use that life?… Was I still willing to give life to someone who might bring me humiliation, pain and disgrace?”
Did you ever ask yourself that question before having children?
Dr. White goes on to ask: “In a moment of terrible despair and grief, have you ever wished that one of your children had never been born? Or have you wished that he or she might conveniently die or disappear? How many times have you cried, ‘I just cannot take it anymore?’ You look back and think: ‘I prayed for my children, I taught them God’s Word, and I tried to be a godly model for them,’ but the reality is that you cannot control another human being, even if that person is your child.” Grieving parents, have you been there? I confess that I have. But I am forced to come back to Isaiah 55:10-11and God’s sovereign control over my adult children. I have to acknowledge that His plans for them may be different than what I want, and I must relinquish my attempts to control them or their situation.
And through all of this pain and struggle, God is teaching you something of His heart through your pain, as you see here in Judges 2, that God’s own children forsook Him and went after idols, who would only bring them suffering.
Moreover, we need to ask ourselves: What do I desire the most? God’s glory or my child’s welfare? Am I willing to submit to God’s sovereign will, and acknowledge “Thy will be done”?
What about you, parent, grandparents? Will you relinquish your rights, your control?
Fourth, we must throw ourselves – and our children – upon God’s mercy
Look at God’s heart in vv. 14-18: In His anger, He sold them (v. 14); He was against them, to defeat them (v. 15); yet He raised up judges to save them! (v. 16) Here we see the merciful heart of God! (v. 18) Look at v. 18 “The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning.” “God’s heart is stirred by the misery of His people, even when there is no repentance,” commentary Dale Davis writes.
Look at Judges 10:16 “And He could bear Israel’s misery no longer” Think about that: our misery, caused by our own sins, moves our Lord’s heart to show mercy to us!
Consider Hebrews 4:15-16, that Jesus Christ, our high priest, is the One who pleads for us before the Father in heaven, as He has been tempted like us in every way, yet without sin, so that He can sympathize with us in our weaknesses and our pain! Therefore we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hallelujah for such confidence! Praise God for such mercy! In God’s just and holy wrath against sin, He continues to show us mercy. As Habakkuk prayed, “O Lord, in your wrath, remember mercy.” We throw ourselves –and the destiny of our wayward children – upon His wonderful mercy.
But let me ask you a question: Concerning you wayward adult children, what are you pinning your hopes on? What are you praying for and hoping for, to turn them around?
John White cautions us: Some parents pin their hopes on the conversion of a troubled son or daughter. Other parents unconsciously pin their hopes on more tangible changes – a son’s new job, a daughter’s return to school, perhaps a new set of better friends, or attendance at a recovery group or at church.
But we must not place our hope in what in changeable and unstable. No one can see what will happen tomorrow, let alone 5 or 10 years from now, with respect to our children.
Dr. White says, “Faith rests ultimately not even on what God will do, but on who God is.”
We must trust His character: He is faithful, merciful, and wise, and He will do with our children what most magnifies His wisdom, power, love and mercy. We must trust Him, and not put our hopes in what He will do for us.
Elizabeth Elliot, who was no stranger to suffering and loss, once said, “My faith is not to rest in the outcome I think God should work out for me; my faith rests in who God is…the quietness of my heart is the fruit of an absolute confidence in God.”
May your heart – and mine – rest in who God is: His sovereignty, His purposes, and His mercy, all seen in their fullness in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.