Judges Sermon Chapter 18 Judges Sermon # 22
Nov. 19, 2017 “How Can You Know That You’re a Success?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Imagine that you are attending your 30th or 40th or 50th high school class reunion. You met up with an old friend from high school days, and after you catch up on the last few decades, he or she asks you a question that takes you by surprise: “So do you think your life has been a success?” And as you fumble for an answer, your mind races with questions like “What is success? How do you measure success? By the career you had? How much money you made? By the house you live in? By the number of children and grandchildren who are doing well in life? By your accomplishments in your church, your community, or your hobbies?” Or what if you attended a Christian high school, and the other person asked you, “Has you Christian life been a success? Have you successfully followed Jesus as a disciple?”
In Judges chapter 18 we read about one of the 12 tribes of Israel, the tribe of Dan, or the Danites. And as we look at what they accomplished in this story, we should ask ourselves, “Were they successful?” Because this isn’t just a story about some people who lived a long time ago, in a place thousands of miles from here. No. This is a story that makes us look at our own lives and ask those haunting questions: “What is success, anyway?” “Have I been successful?” “Have I been successful as a Christ-follower?” and “How do I really know if I am successful… or a self-deluded failure?”
When they originally entered into the Promised Land, the Tribe of Dan showed itself to be a failure, compared to what the other tribes of Israel were able to do. So they wanted a fresh start somewhere else; they wanted a new beginning. [And some of you have wanted that as well, haven’t you? You sought a fresh start with a new spouse, a new career, a new location, or a new church, where no one would know your past, your sins, or your shame.]
The Danites desperately wanted this new venture to succeed, as they relocated to a different area. They wanted the Lord to bless their plans. They wanted to make sure that they had the right priest, the right order of worship, and that they were doing all the right things.
And to all outward appearance, it seemed that the Danites had succeeded. They got everything they were hoping for. Or did they? Let’s see.
- A Desirable Location is No Guarantee of Success.
The three most important words in real estate: location, location, location!
Until now the tribe of Dan had not found a successful location in the Promised Land. The Danites had failed to take the inheritance that was promised to them by God. They failed to put faith into action, and in Judges 1:34 we find them bottled up on hilly terrain by the Amorites. But now the tribe of Dan decided to do something about their location, by checking out new places to live and then by preying upon a prosperous yet defenseless territory. So they spied out Laish and then conquered it, and renamed it “Dan.”
Now to all outward appearances, it looks as if Dan has finally received their promised inheritance. They acted on the good report of their five spies – the way Israel should have done back in Numbers 13, when they heard the report of the two faithful spies. But their spying and their conquering were actually a parody of the God-ordained conquest of the land. For Dan had seized land that God had not intended them to take. Their conquering of this land did not fall under the Lord’s command and blessing to inhabit the Promised Land.
So while it looks as if they are fulfilling the Biblical pattern of conquering the Promised Land, they are actually doing so out of greed, not obedience, and they are fighting the wrong people. Yet in all this, they feel they have the blessing and guidance of the Lord! (Invoking the name of the Lord and of God in 18:5-6 and 10.)
And if we look down the road a few hundred years, we would see that this paradise of Laish would eventually became a major center of idolatry, for King Jeroboam would establish one of his two golden calves right there in the middle of Dan! (See 1 Kings 12:28-30 “The people even went as far as Dan to worship (the golden calf) there.”
The lesson here is that simply landing in a seemingly great location does not guarantee that you have God’s blessing. A nice house in the suburbs does not guarantee success in God’s eyes, and neither does a beautiful and modern church building. Neither the best seats in the theater nor the seats closest to the President guarantee that you’ve made it. Neither a new church nor a new spouse nor a new career nor retirement will guarantee real success. For real success is found in the place of trust in Jesus and obedience to the Lord. Real success is found in being located “In Christ,” in being given a heart transformation by God the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced that?
- A Dynamic Leader is No Guarantee of Success.
The author of Judges has a surprise for us at the end of chapter 18. For here he reveals the identity of this priest-for-hire, this Lease-a-Levite who jumps at every chance to get ahead in his career, whatever the cost. For here we see that this Levite is none other than “Jonathan, son of Gershom, the son of Moses.”
This revelation would be like interviewing a candidate to be your next pastor, and you find out at the end that he is Billy Graham’s grandson or Tim Keller’s son-in-law! And the pastoral nominating committee thinks to themselves, “Wow! What a chance to be connected with such a famous evangelists or pastor! This will add prestige and honor to our church!”
Indeed, the triumph of the Danites snagging “Jonathan, son of Gershom, the son of Moses” as their priest seems like a brilliant stroke of luck for them….until you realize that he’s leading them in the worship of idols, and not in the worship of the true and living God!
In fact, the holding back of Jonathan’s identity is meant to shock the alert reader, that a descendant of Moses has sunk so low. Dale Davis comments: “By holding back the priest’s identity till the very end of the narrative, and then disclosing his relationship to Moses, the writer of Judges essentially crushes the reader under a literary load of bricks. Shock, dismay, disbelief, and helpless feeling of tragedy – these are the reactions.” (As you realize that even a grandson of Moses has strayed so far from the true faith.)
Being a descendant of Moses – or of Abraham – is no guarantee of success; no guarantee against apostasy, and no guarantee of spiritual life. For God has no grandchildren. God has no superstars, no celebrities, no big names that He uses or works through.
John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matt. 3:9)
The lesson here is not to trust in someone just because he or she is a dynamic leader, or is well-connected to big money, or is a big-name celebrity, or is a billionaire philanthropist. None of that guarantees success in God’s eyes, for He often loves to work through the lowly, the weak, and the nobodies of the world, so that we give Him all the glory!
- A Happy Ending is No Guarantee of Success.
Now on the surface it appears that providence is favoring Micah and then the Danites:
There’s a certain Levite who just happens to come Micah’s way;
The Danites happen to bump into this Levite who they already know;
Their spies bring back a good report;
They win over the Levite to their side with more money and a lucrative new field of ministry; and they easily overpower the people of Laish, and make this paradise their new home, where they live happily ever after… right?
The seemingly happy ending of the Danites at the end of chapter 18 hides the long-term disaster that Dan would suffer, a few centuries later; for one day the dreaded Assyrian army would come, and the Danites would be taken away, as slaves, never to return to their land.
Now perhaps you are thinking “That’s not fair! How can you blame them for what happened centuries later?” But we need to see that these Danites planted the seed for all that…
For starting with a house church (in Micah’s home) to a megachurch (the Danites), the idols are the same, only on a bigger scale. “Micah, the Levite, and the Danites were all concerned to “do the right thing” in a superficial way (see 17:5-6, 12-13; 18:5-6), and all their plans seemed to work for them (18:30-31). Yet under the surface their characters were corrupt; they failed to do what was right in the Lord’s eyes.”
Dale Davis: “The Danites reenact Micah’s folly (18:27-31). It grows from an idea in Micah’s mother’s perverted brain (17:3-4) to a reality in Micah’s “used-god lot” and spreads, like cancer, to a tribal group.” Furthermore, the Danite sanctuary may have provided some of the stimulus for Jeroboam I to inject his own lethal infection into Israel’s life (1 Kings 12, esp. v. 29). If so, the tragedy continues into 2 Kings 17 and eventually damns a nation.”
The lesson here is that happy endings are no guarantee of ultimate security or success. The only guarantee is to trust in God’s sovereign grace and to be faithful to Him, in all He asks you to do. This principle is true for churches, families, and the national economy:
For a church may be growing in numbers and having all sorts of programs, but remember that it is what Jesus Christ thinks about a church that really matters: see Revelation 2-3.
A family may appear to have it all together, looking attractive, with the children doing well in academics and in sports, and may even be pillars in the church, but outward appearances don’t tell you what is really going on in the hearts of each person. (Ps. 127 “Unless the Lord…”)
The stock market in America keeps jumping up to record highs, but don’t be fooled: our nation is under God’s judgment for our grievous sins, especially in light of all the Bible knowledge we have had… and one day we will suffer a disastrous crash.
Well, if a happy ending for now is no guarantee of ultimate and lasting success, then what is?
The only guarantee of ultimate and lasting success is to fully avail yourself of God and His grace in Jesus Christ.
Joshua 1:7-8 (see bulletin cover): Success is found in meditation of and trust in God’s Word
Nehemiah 1:11 – Success is found in crying out to the Lord in faith, in our prayers.
Psalm 118:25 – Success is found in trusting in the Lord to save us.
Proverbs 3:1-6 – Success is found in trusting the Lord with all your heart and acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Lord of every part of your life.
We need to operate in the realm of faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in the realm of what can be seen and manipulated, if we want real success.
Consider the person and work of Jesus the Messiah:
Success was personified in the person and the redemptive work of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus:
Jesus did not possess a strategic location in Rome or Alexandria; rather he grew up in an obscure location in Nazareth. Jesus was not seen as a dynamic leader, especially when he was mocked and scorned as a false savior, upon the cross. And Jesus’s life as a crucified criminal was far from a happy ending!
But we read in Isaiah 53:10-12 that through all of this, “He will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life, and he will be satisfied…Therefore the Lord will give him a portion among the great…”
God the Father made His Son the ultimate success, as the Son trusted and obey the Father, even to a death on the cross, for our sins, so that the Father could raise Him up from the grave, and the Son would be satisfied; and the will of God would prosper and succeed in His hand!
Let me ask you: are you looking to Jesus and trusting Him for your salvation, for your life, and for your success? In Him alone is true “success.”