Judges 9:22-57 (Part 1) – Oh, Lord, Why Do You Wait? How Long Must We Suffer?

Posted: September 6, 2017 in Book of Judges
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Judges 9:22-57 (Part 1)
Shechem Rebels Against Abimelech

We often ask the question of God, “What’s taking you so long?” or “Why did this happen?” We wonder why God allows evil and oppression to continue in our lives and in the lives of whole classes or races of people or even whole nations of people. Why does he let evil continue to rule over us? How long must we suffer before God will intervene on our behalf, if at all? You hear about evil all the time. Mass shootings. The rape and murder of grown women and even the rape and murder of little girls. Planes flying into 110 story buildings. Teenagers walking into schools and shooting their classmates and teachers. . There was even a guy that walks into a movie theatre in Colorado and shoots 70 people (killing 12) whose only crime was watching a movie. There were the churchgoers and pastor at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston not too long ago. We wonder why?

We wonder why there is death and destruction from natural disasters. Even natural disasters like wildfires out west and even recently in the mountains of Tennessee. The devastation wrought in southeast Texas by the amazingly slow moving Hurricane Harvey. Even today, we are wondering if the southern half of Florida is going to take a direct hit from what is being called one of the strongest hurricanes ever, Hurricane Irma. These are the headlines that we see about how evil and suffering seems so rampant in today’s world. And we, even as believers, cry out to the Lord, “Why is this happening?”

Even in our personal lives, we have tragedy and suffering in our own lives. Much of our suffering is of our own doing, but some of our suffering has been forced upon us by others. In my own life, I have experienced such things. Although I do not have time to go through all the background details, but during my first divorce, my estranged wife who was the type that you are either against or for her, there was no middle ground. Our separation due to years of marital problems (including her years of drug addiction and her own affair, all of which piled up anger in my heart that led to my own affair and then the violence set in by her toward me) was the beginning of evil being thrust upon me. During our separation, not too long after she figured out that I was not going to come back home, she accused me of molesting my oldest daughter. This only came out after I had taken her to family court on contempt charges. For months after she figured out that I was not going to reconcile with her, she refused to allow me to see my children at my appointed visitation times. At the court hearing for the contempt charges, she dropped the bombshell. That set in motion months and years of events that I still shudder to think of even now some 20-22 years later after the events.

After the accusation, I was unable to see my children at all for six months while all of that played out. I had to be investigated by the Sheriff’s Office. I even took a lie detector test to prove my innocence. Even after I was able to see my children again, it had to be supervised by my parents for two years after that. Ultimately, DSS saw that my ex-wife was a greater danger to the kids than I was and removed them from their mother’s care and ultimately placing them in my parents care for 2 ½ years. Even though I had proved my innocence over and over, once you set DSS wheels in motion, they are in you, on you, and around you for a long time. It was a long and sometimes lonely hard road. Even though I knew someone was going to get hurt badly, most likely me, if my first wife and I had stayed together, during those lonely days after the accusation, I felt like I had been beaten and she had won. Even after the accusations proved false, I was still being treated as an unfit parent. It was all very frustrating how one act of evil, a false accusation to the core of who I was a parent of two daughters, could suck in so many resources of DSS and profoundly affect my relationship with my daughters for years to come. One act of evil caused pain and suffering for me, the girls, and even the accuser, their mother, for years to come. Why did it all happen? This was more than just payback for having an affair and finally ending a dangerous marriage, this was just mean and evil. Let’s just say that my ex became obsessed with destroying me. It consumed her for years and destroyed what future life she may have had. For this and many other reasons, she ended up living as a hermit with her second husband wrapped up in their own little universe of just them. She passed away at the tender age of 55 two summers ago. But during the height of all that divorce/DSS stuff from 1993-1996, I wondered how evil can have such a hold for such a long time. Even in my own little corner of the universe, though I have had my share of sins that I have paid for dearly over the years, this was one instance of evil being thrust upon me and even when proven innocent the result of the evil lasted for a long, long time. Why? Why did God let that happen?

That was the thing that I thought of this morning when I read this passage. My own struggle with the results of evil actions of others. Here, we see Abimelech was allowed to rule for over three years before anything happened to change the situation. Let’s read through this passage, Judges 9:22-57, today, with an eye toward why it took so long for these events to unfold, with an eye toward why evil is allowed to continue unabated at times, as it seems. Here’s the passage now:

22 Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. 23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 so that the violence [a]done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. 25 The men of Shechem set [b]men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who might pass by them along the road; and it was told to Abimelech.

26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his [c]relatives, and crossed over into Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their trust in him. 27 They went out into the field and gathered the grapes of their vineyards and trod them, and held a [d]festival; and they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank and cursed Abimelech. 28 Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is Zebul not his [e]lieutenant? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 [f]Would, therefore, that this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” And he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out.”

30 When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger burned. 31 He sent messengers to Abimelech [g]deceitfully, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his [h]relatives have come to Shechem; and behold, they are [i]stirring up the city against you. 32 Now therefore, arise by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 In the morning, as soon as the sun is up, you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and behold, when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you shall do to them [j]whatever you can.”

34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him arose by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four [k]companies. 35 Now Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the city gate; and Abimelech and the people who were with him arose from the ambush. 36 When Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “[l]Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains.” But Zebul said to him, “You are seeing the shadow of the mountains as if they were men.” 37 Gaal spoke again and said, “Behold, people are coming down from the [m]highest part of the land, and one [n]company comes by the way of [o]the diviners’ [p]oak.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your [q]boasting now with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?’ Is this not the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them!” 39 So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. 40 Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his [r]relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem.

42 Now it came about the next day, that the people went out to the field, and it was told to Abimelech. 43 So he took [s]his people and divided them into three [t]companies, and lay in wait in the field; when he looked and [u]saw the people coming out from the city, he arose against them and [v]slew them. 44 Then Abimelech and the [w]company who was with him dashed forward and stood in the entrance of the city gate; the other two [x]companies then dashed against all who were in the field and [y]slew them. 45 Abimelech fought against the city all that day, and he captured the city and killed the people who were in it; then he razed the city and sowed it with salt.

46 When all the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the inner chamber of the [z]temple of El-berith. 47 It was told Abimelech that all the leaders of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 48 So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him; and Abimelech took [aa]an axe in his hand and cut down a branch from the trees, and lifted it and laid it on his shoulder. Then he said to the people who were with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry and do [ab]likewise.” 49 All the people also cut down each one his branch and followed Abimelech, and put them on the inner chamber and set the inner chamber on fire over those inside, so that all the men of the tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.

50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he camped against Thebez and captured it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the center of the city, and all the men and women with all the leaders of the city fled there and shut themselves in; and they went up on the roof of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’” So [ac]the young man pierced him through, and he died. 55 When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, each departed to his [ad]home. 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. 57 Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came [ae]upon them.

For today, let’s think about the duration of evil and God’s timing. Abimelech was not what God wanted in a judge, but it was three years before God moved against him and, thus, fulfilling Jotham’s parable (that we read yesterday). Those three years must have seemed like forever to Jotham. We, and surely Jotham, must ask the question, “Why wasn’t Abimelech punished sooner for his evil ways?” We are not alone when we wonder why evil seems to prevail (just read some of David’s psalms or read the Book of Job). God promises to deal with sin – but in His time, not ours. Is it not true that God is not only a God of justice but a God of mercy as well. All of us have sinned and deserve punishment. The world is full of sin (and the Bible tells us even the soil (i.e., nature) groans under the weight of sin) and we all deserve righteous punishment. Yet, God allows us time to repent of our sins, just as those who perpetrate evil upon us. We must trust God’s justice when it comes to sin. We must recognize that none of us is righteous and that we must examine our own hearts for the sins we have committed against others and repent of them. And, yes, we may have a time of waiting for the wicked to be punished. But, we must trust that God will deal with wickedness and evil and unrepentant sin in his due time. We must trust His sovereignty.

Atheists, skeptics and other critics of Christianity often argue against God on the basis of the reality of evil and suffering. “See,” they say, “since evil and suffering exist, God must not exist.” Sometimes they will argue that God may exist, but perhaps He is a weak god, an incompetent one or even an evil one!

But do evil and suffering really mean that God does not exist? Some Christians have responded by turning the skeptic’s argument on its head. They do this by asking on what basis is something deemed evil? If there is some moral standard the critic is basing their position on, then the problem of evil becomes an argument for not against the reality of God. After all, in order to call something good or evil, there must be an underlying standard of right and wrong. Theists argue that this standard is rooted in God and His nature. We know His moral law exists so we recognize the reality of evil and suffering. But unless there is a moral standard, we have no real basis for calling anything good or evil.

Moral evil is explained by the fact that human beings commit evil against one another. People lie, cheat, steal, hurt, and more. This does not argue against Christianity, but instead proves the point that there is something very wrong with human nature as it now is. But what about natural evil? Couldn’t there be less suffering? Why doesn’t God stop things like earthquakes and tsunamis? Again, this ties into the broad Christian explanation of the human predicament. Paradise has been lost due to human moral shortcomings. As a result, we live in a fallen world, east of Eden. As a result, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).

Considering all the evil in the world, does God really care about us? Not only does He care, but He cares enough to have sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for us. Because of God’s great love and sacrifice, we now have a way to be reconciled with Him through Christ. This does not mean that we will no longer suffer in this world, but it does mean that we will spend eternity with God. There will come a day when God “will wipe every tear from” our eyes and, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things” will pass away (Revelation 21:4).

It certainly does not make it any easier to go through suffering but one thing it does do is bring us to our knees and makes us realize that the fallacy that we are own gods and that we control our own lives. Our pain and suffering makes us feel out of control. In those moments, we may just open our eyes to God for the first time. We may realize that we don’t know why God does what He does but we must trust that He has a plan. He has a plan to take this world that we as a human race have made a complete mess of and make it right again, when all things will be made new again. He has kept every promise He ever made. He is working it out now. He is giving us time through His mercy to realize who He is and come to Him. He has a plan for the world and He has a plan for you (even in the midst of our suffering, as we see it).

Amen and Amen.

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