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  • Like every library, the Bible is sectioned into different kinds of books. We looked at

  • the book of Leviticus which belongs to the law section of the library. We're now going

  • to look at a history book - quite different. Actually, the Bible is unique in being mostly

  • history. If you study the other sacred scriptures of the world - of the other religions, none

  • of them are history. You read the Koran through or the holy Vedas, you find there's no history

  • in them. The Bible is a book of history and unlike any other history book it begins earlier

  • and it ends later; and in fact it records history that no historian can record - nobody

  • was present at the beginning of the history of our universe and nobody has yet been present

  • at the end of it, and yet the Bible covers the entire history of the universe from beginning

  • to end. Which means that the earliest part of the Bible and the latest part are either

  • divine inspiration or human imagination - but you've got to decide. But here's history written

  • when there has been no historian present to record what happened. But most of it is history

  • like other histories - it's the human part and in the book of Judges we're into a book

  • of history. Now there are four levels of studying history

  • - all history. And in the history section of your library you'll find histories written

  • from all points of view. One point of view is to study the Personalities who make history

  • happen, the great characters, the great figures. And one series of the history of England focuses

  • on the king or the queen and what happened during their reign. A second level of studying

  • history is to look at nations and Peoples and see the political history of the world

  • and how one nation gets bigger and stronger and another weakens, and then that one weakens,

  • and another takes over. The history of peoples as distinct from personalities. A third level

  • of studying history is to look for Patterns - to look for somehow rhythms in history so

  • you get cycles of recession and economic growth and some historians try and find patterns

  • of history and see how the ebb and flow of civilisations happens. There have been twenty-one

  • civilisations that have come and gone so far, and they follow a remarkably similar pattern

  • of rise and fall like the Roman Empire. There is a fourth level which historians like Toynbee

  • have tried to write and that is to see the Purpose of historywhere's it going?

  • Is it just a matter of patterns, or is there a purpose being fulfilled through the centuries?

  • Is something going on, is there a plot, is there some clear end in view?

  • Well now, there are two answers to that last question - is there a purpose in history?

  • On the one hand, there are those who say there's no purpose; history is going nowhere, it's

  • going round in circles, everything happens again. Have you heard the popular proverb

  • 'history repeats itself'? That's what we call the cyclical view of history, that

  • it's getting nowhere, it's just going round, and round, and round and you have good times

  • and bad times and good times and bad times and empires rise and fall, and history's going

  • nowhere - it's going in a circle. On the other hand, that's a human view of

  • history but the divine view of history is that it's a linear purpose rather than a cyclical.

  • In other words, history is going somewhere. It's travelling in only one direction from

  • the past, through the present, to the future. And this is the view of history in the Bible

  • and history is a line, it's linear, it's got purpose; it has a beginning, a middle

  • and an end and God is moving history to his planned ending. And therefore history is his

  • story and he's writing it. Now it's interesting that whenever in the

  • Bible people got away from God, this was the pattern that resulted, and if you've read

  • Judges you know that it's just one cycle after another; and the same thing happens again

  • and again, actually seven times in the book of Judges, the same story happens again, because

  • they had got away from the Lord. And in fact individual lives are the same - away from

  • the Lord, life is a roundabout: you get up, you go to work, you come home, you watch telly,

  • you go to bed, you get up, you go to work, you come home, you watch telly and you go

  • on doing that for forty years and then you retire and die and you get off just where

  • you got on, life's been a roundabout, a cycle and it's got nowhere. Whereas when you're

  • in line with God, your life has a purpose and it's going somewhere. It's a line again

  • - do you follow me? Now since in the book of Judges people had

  • got away from God and were disobedient to God and were not obeying Leviticus and the

  • other laws of Moses, life became cyclical - a roundabout, and things just happened again

  • and again and again. With the book of Ruth, on the other hand, the line becomes the main

  • thing and it ends with a royal line that is fulfilling God's purpose.

  • So, is life a cycle or a line for you - circle or a line? Depends on whether you're in touch

  • with the Lord. And that's one of the big things that redemption does for you. It gets

  • you off the roundabout and gets you on to a line that's going somewhere and that you're

  • part of a purpose that's being worked out in history. Well now, originally the book

  • of Judges and the book of Ruth were one book and still are in the Hebrew Bible. That's

  • very important because they belong together - they are really one book. And we're going

  • to ask who wrote this one book and why? Because in fact the most important question about

  • any book in the Bible you can ask is, why was that book written? And once you've got

  • the answer to that, you've got the biggest key to unlock it - why was that book written?

  • So why was this single Hebrew book Judges/Ruth written, and who wrote it, and when? And astonishingly,

  • we can answer these questions exactly, even though the answers are not given in either

  • book; but we've got to do a little detective work.

  • Now the tragedy is - we'll begin with Judges - and the tragedy is that most people only

  • have a Sunday school knowledge of the book of Judges. Do you know what I mean by that?

  • They only know the Bowdlerized version. Now that maybe a verb unfamiliar to you. Bowdler

  • was a famous man who didn't approve of William Shakespeare because he said, there are naughty

  • bits in Shakespeare. So he actually revised Shakespeare and cut out all the naughty bits

  • and it was known as the Bowdlerized version and his name has gone down in history. Well

  • I'm afraid you can't teach judges as a whole in Sunday school. It's full of pretty horrid

  • things of concubines and prostitutes being cut up into pieces and rape and murder and

  • phallic symbols. No wonder they edited it very carefully for Sunday school teaching.

  • And I'm afraid when you do that, you finish up only knowing about the personalities - you

  • don't know the book. That's typical. There's a comic of Samson, and actually he didn't

  • look like that at all he looked more like me. I mean if Samson had looked like that,

  • do you think Delilah would have said, what is the secret of your great strength? I mean

  • actually he had a very small physique. His strength did not lie in his biceps, he wasn't

  • Atlas or Mr. World or whatever, but we were given these in Sunday school - you know the

  • kind of thing. And lurid stories of his adventures, suitably Bowdlerized of course. But unfortunately,

  • that's the level at which most people know the book of Judges. They know about Samson,

  • they know about Gideon; if they're feminists, they know all about Deborah these days, but

  • we're getting a bit stuck now for some of the names of the others and that's a great

  • pity because it's not just a book of personalities. It's not just a book of Sunday school stories

  • or of folk tales - not fairy tales - folk tales; but they no doubt went through the

  • stages of folk tales - they were remembered, then repeated, then recorded and most of the

  • Bible came that way, as things were remembered and then retold and repeated and then somebody

  • put them down with pen and ink and they became recorded for us.

  • Well now, of the heroes and personalities in the book of Judges, it's really quite unbalanced.

  • For example, Samson has four chapters all to himself, Gideon has three, but some of

  • these others only get a little mention and it seems that the more sensational they were

  • the more mention they got, it's almost a tabloid newspaper record. Deborah and Barak had quite

  • a bit, Gideon had more so I've given him 2 stars, and Samson had most so I've given

  • him 3 stars. And the first impression is that it was simply folk heroes like Nelson and

  • Wellingtonyou know, people who've saved the situation. When you run through them,

  • what an odd crowd they are. This is Caleb's younger brother, and we're only told that

  • he brought peace to his people for 40 years, and that's about all we know about him.

  • Ehud was a very colourful character; he was left handed and he used to carry his eighteen-inch

  • blade sword strapped to his right leg and people who frisked you frisked your left leg

  • because that was where a right- hander would pull the sword from. So rather cunningly,

  • he carried it in his left trouser leg and he could pull it out pretty sharply. And he

  • went to the king of Moab and said, I've got a message for you and it's a very private

  • message, so send everybody out of the room. And the king of Moab was very, very fat and

  • when everybody had left the room, Ehud pulled out his sword - they'd frisked his right leg

  • but not his left, and he'd still got the sword - and he plunges it in to the king of Moab's

  • belly, who was so fat that the fat closed over the sword and Ehud's hand. A most edifying

  • tale this - and then having killed the king of Moab, he went out and he told the guards,

  • the king has gone to relieve himself, so he says, don't trouble him for the next fifteen

  • minutes - and thus got back safely to Israel. What on earth is that doing in the Bible?

  • Shamgar, well he killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad - bully for him! Then Deborah - Deborah

  • and Barak - and Deborah was a prophetess; her name means 'busy bee' and she was

  • married to a man called Flash - otherwise known as Lappidoth in Hebrew - and she would

  • settle disputes by hearing from the Lord. But when the big battle came, she did not

  • lead the people of God into battle, she called on Barak, a man to do that. He was not a man

  • and he said, I'm not going into the front line unless you come with me - because it

  • is the custom in Israeli army for the senior officer to lead his troops in battle - still

  • true of the Israeli army - which is why they lose so many officers when they fight. It's

  • the only army - British army is a little different and the Americans and the others. But there,

  • Barak said, I'll only lead in front if you'll come with me which would have exposed her

  • to danger and because of that, God was angry and said that the enemy Sisera would fall

  • to the hand of a woman to humiliate Barak in his cowardice and of course Sisera died

  • of surprise - such a thing had never entered his head before. And I'm just seeing if you've

  • read it, and if you haven't, go and read it and you'll find out why I said that.

  • Gideon - this fearful man - he put some meat on an altar and fire from heaven burns up

  • the meat and then he says, Lord I need a sign from heaven. I mean it's almost laughable,

  • that having had fire of heaven burn up meat in front of his eyes, he wants a sign. So

  • he asks for a fleece. A friend of mine in New Zealand, one nighthe was invited to

  • consider being a missionary in Malaysia and he said, Lord I need a fleece. When he came

  • down the next morning, here was a sheepskin on top of his car in the drive covered in

  • dew and he has not, to this day, found out who put it there. None of the neighbours put

  • it there. He's never asked for a fleece again. But I meet so many Christians who say,

  • I'm asking for a fleece. Are you really? Well he's the only man I've ever known who got

  • one apart from Gideon, but Gideon got his sign with the fleece that was dry one day

  • and wet the next. But he had to learn that it's by God's strength and strategy that battles

  • are won and you remember that God reduced his army from 200,000 to 300 so that Gideon

  • would learn not to put his trust in human resources.

  • Just out of interest, you remember he sorted them out by bringing them to a stream and

  • seeing whether they lapped or not, that's the Spring of Hared where he took them. I

  • want you to imagine hundreds of Israeli soldiers stooping down. Those who put their heads down

  • to the water and licked, were rejected and those who cupped the water in their hands

  • and lifted it, so they could still keep an eye open for the enemy, they were chosen;

  • and ultimately got down to 300. By the way, that's where Deborah and Barak gathered their

  • troops on the top of Mount Tabor and this is the area where Sisera and his troops were.

  • It's a marshy area and their chariots got stuck in the mud and Sisera fled on foot,

  • but that's where it happened. It's a real education to go to the Holy Land (and Chris

  • Hill is the ideal person to take you).

  • Well now, let's go on. Who'd we got up to? Passed Gideon. Tola; Jair - Thirty sons, donkeys

  • and towns he had - interesting! Jephthah, the Head of Gilead, that's all we know about

  • him. And then Ibzan, he had thirty daughters and thirty sons, and all his sons married

  • outside the clan of Judah - and he belonged to Bethlehem. Now there's an interesting

  • little note, I want you to remember that. This family in Bethlehem married outside the

  • clan - still within Israel, but outside the tribe.

  • That's going to come up again a bit later when we get to Ruth. Then there was Elon,

  • we know nothing about him. Abdon had forty sons, thirty grandsons and seventy donkeys!

  • That makes seventy children and seventy donkeys. And then we come to Samson whose name was

  • Sunshine - that's what Samson means. And Sunshine was brought up a Nazirite. I was once preaching

  • on him and I said he wasn't allowed to take alcohol, and somebody in the audience shouted

  • Hallelujah! And I said, and he had to let his hair grow long - and there was dead silence!

  • And I said, why do you just approve of part of the word of God? But he was a Nazirite

  • and had a miraculous birth; and you know the story about him killing the lion and finding

  • the honey in it, and he offered that as a conundrum at his wedding reception – 'out

  • of the strong comes forth sweetness'. And you know anybody could have found the answer

  • by looking at Tate & Lyle's golden syrup tin! Because the answer's there on the Tate & Lyle

  • golden syrup tin - every one you buy - but they didn't have that in those days. When

  • they managed to persuade his wife to let the puzzle out, he was so angry, and she went

  • off with the Best Man. It's an extraordinary tale of a man who married and his marriage

  • broke up before even their honeymoon, then he moved to nameless prostitutes, finally

  • he had a mistress called Delilah - you know the sad story - the story of a weak man, not

  • a strong man. And you know that ultimately after many amazing feats of strength which

  • were due purely to his charismatic anointing and not to his muscles, that the Spirit of

  • the Lord departed from him and he was blinded and put in a treadmill and ultimately made

  • a joke by the Philistines. Some of you will have heard a famous sermon

  • I preached - or infamous or whatever - called 'Samson's hair is growing again' which

  • I preached way back in 1982 and which went round this country like a prairie fire. One

  • young person who heard that sermon wrote a poem about the blind Samson led by the little

  • boy to the pillars of the temple where he pulled the whole temple down. I must read

  • you that poem, it's most moving. It's called 'The Boy Who held His Hand'. It

  • goes like this – “They gouged them out. At first, I could

  • not bear to look, empty and raw and cruel. I would not look; the shock of emptiness knowing

  • that he would not see. I watched the shaven head bowed low rocking with the rhythm of

  • the grindstone round, round, round. I watched the needless shackles, heavy and hard, biting

  • the flesh that needs no binding. Now, it does not matter that his eyes are gone. I am his

  • eyes; he sees through me. He has to see through me - there is no other way, and I have wept

  • the tears he cannot weep for all those careless years. And I have learned to love this broken

  • man, while he has learned at last to fear his God. So, I am not afraid to die, happy

  • to be his eyes this one last time, taking his hand, leading with practised care step

  • by guided step, into the place where he can pray. Oh Lord! Oh Sovereign Lord! And as the

  • pillars fall, I cry Amen.” That's quite a poem isn't it? Dear old Samson.

  • In the last five minutes, he did more for his people than he did in all the years of

  • his life. Well that's just looking at personalities,

  • and the Bible is an honest book. It first of all doesn't hide human weakness. Many of

  • these characters are quite weak, even cowardly. They're not strong characters, they're

  • not holy people, and yet God used them. They are all charismatic people in that the secret

  • was the Holy Spirit came on them. But, however, though the human weakness was matched by divine

  • strength, that anointing of the Holy Spirit only came on a few people out of all God's

  • people, 12 out of 2,000,000 to be precise, and the Holy Spirit only came on them temporarily

  • and not permanently. It was an anointing Spirit that touched them, rather than an in-dwelling

  • Spirit who stayed with them. That's important - that's the pattern of the Holy Spirit in

  • the old Testament. But what were they all? In English, they're called Judges - the book

  • of Judges. It's a pity; it's not a very helpful word - it's a bit of a misnomer. In fact,

  • the noun is not applied to any of those. The verb is. It says, Samson judged Israel, Gideon

  • judged Israel. They're not called judges. The verb is used and yet it's not 'judged'.

  • I would call them trouble-shooters. They delivered their people or as I said earlier, they saved

  • the situation. You could almost call them saviours - but that's what the verb actually