Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 4: Conflict and Crisis: The Judges
Israel's time of the judges was early in their history, after having entered the promised land. Almost immediately after Joshua's death, and the death of his generation, "there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10, NASB). The result was entirely predictable: "Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals" (vs. 11). It wasn't a dramatic decision, just a quiet failure to teach the next generation how the Lord had led and taught His people in the past.
The cycle began with this seemingly insignificant neglect. Israel went her way, got into trouble, called on the Lord and He rescued them. During this time, He raised up what were called judges to have special access to Him ("And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel," Judges 3:10). During each judge's lifetime, Israel was at peace, but once the judge died, Israel went her own way and the cycle began again.
In the 128 years since the General Conference of 1888, there have been some similarities to the experience of Israel in the Seventh-day Adventist church. It is not within the scope of this little paper to trace the parallels, but thoughtful people are concerned.
The concept that God provided "judges" is significant. A nation that learns to respect the rule of law is a nation that does well. Israel had an on-again, off-again relationship with respect for the law, generally dependent on the existence of a living judge in the land. Again, we notice that almost everything depends on the leadership. God seems relegated to plod along behind His chosen people, but He is still in control. Because of Israel's choices, He allows surrounding nations to oppress them, so they cry out for deliverance. Here enters the reluctant Gideon, whose faith is apparently not as strong as that of previous judges Othniel and Deborah. We love to tell the children (with the adults listening) the wonderfully colorful story of Gideon.
In one of the first conversations Gideon had with God, the Lord sets forth a condensed gem of the concept of righteousness by faith. "And the Lord said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me'" (Judges 7:2). God is trying to reiterate the lesson Israel refuses to learn. They view the descent into sin lightly, as if God will allow the "rebellion, apostasy, disaster, cry out, forgive, and deliverance" cycle to continue indefinitely. Anything that tends to make people think they accomplished something for God without Him cannot be endorsed by God. We cannot forget that anything that is not of faith is sin. God will not lead us into temptation. The more the problem seems impossible to overcome, the more we will see His, and only His leading in the solution.
The cycle of rebellion and deliverance continued for a while. Various other judges were raised up in cycles of approximately 40 years. Again, there was peace and prosperity while the judges lived. The Philistine oppression had been allowed for 40 years, and this time God introduces a new concept in their deliverer. Samson's birth is divinely predicted, and his parents are given instructions for setting him aside as a Nazirite "and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines" (Judges 13:5). Samson wasted much of his time in ministry by taking the glory for his supernatural powers. How much more God could have done with this man had he been willing to humble himself and listen to God's guidance.
Samson's life is a micro demonstration of the corporate life of Israel. He presumed on the patience of God, and tested it throughout his life. Samson's enraged "superman" style acts were not part of a cohesive plan to redeem Israel, but were rather more of a circus demonstration of his (really God's) power. His last act to deliver Israel from the Philistines also caused his own death, and little was done to stop the descent into deep apostasy.
It took the living parable of the Levite and his concubine to bring the nation to see its condition. The symbolism of cutting the dead woman into twelve pieces, and sending them to the leaders of the tribes, was powerful. They realized they were responsible for turning away from God, and they deserved to be punished for abandoning their God and His promises. Like the mysterious story where Abraham cut the sacrificial animal pieces in Genesis 16, Israel had abandoned the promises of the Lord to be their God since they kept turning away from His instruction and teaching. Finally, the nation was unified enough to see their wrong, but the tribe of Benjamin held out and civil war broke out. They saved the tribe, but the final verse of Judges gives a sad state of affairs: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25)
The story of Ruth is the beautiful response the Lord gives us as a ray of hope through the rubbish Israel made of herself. When the three women left Moab, Naomi was returning to a leaderless people where everyone did "what was right in his own eyes." Other than the possibility of avoiding famine, the Israeli society probably wasn't much different than what they experienced in heathen Moab. It would have been easy for Orpah and Ruth to justify staying in Moab and letting Naomi go, but at least for Ruth, a change had happened in her heart. She must have seen something in the religion of Israel that was different because she stayed loyal to the religion of her dead husband by staying with Naomi.
What does this have to do with the message the Lord gave us in 1888? The stories of God's interaction with people throughout the Bible were given to explain the principles of righteousness by faith repeated and enlarged through human experience. God wanted a church to actually live the principles embodied by Ruth, who wasn't even an Israelite. We as Seventh-day Adventists were to demonstrate the Lord's ability to change stubborn and rebellious hearts in preparation for the return of Christ.
It is this spirit, lived in the life that will show the world that the message of righteousness by faith is not just a dusty old doctrine, but is capable of quickening hearts into vibrant life and joy. That God chose to bring His Son through the line of Ruth cannot be coincidence. That line produced God's "heir" for the human race through which we are all reborn "in Christ."
Have we, as a corporate church met the challenge of showing the world the change of heart? Since it is the final message which will result in the Lord's return when fully given, we have to humbly answer, no, the church has not fully met that challenge. Perhaps the answer involves preaching the message more fully. Perhaps we need to tell folks that the incarnation of Christ placed all of humanity in Him, so by His birth, sinless life, universally atoning death, and resurrection He rewrote the history of the entire human race. It is this vital information that is to be presented to the world so people can make their choice to remain where Christ put them, in Him. So much of Christianity teaches that we are born in some kind of limbo, where we must find Christ on our own, then make the right choice in order to be saved. A variation is that we are born already condemned and must make enormous efforts to avoid the slippery slope into hell.
There are verses that make it sound like those scenarios are supported by scripture. Ephesians 2:1 describes us: "You were dead in your trespasses and sins." Think of the death of Christ as reaching backward and forward in time. The entire world was plunged into condemnation and death when the first Adam sinned.
"This sentence of death was made known to Adam as soon as he was placed in the garden of Eden, as a warning against sin. When he sinned, he at once came under condemnation, doomed to suffer the threatened penalty. But right here came in the gospel. The sacrifice of Christ was just as efficacious the day that Adam sinned as it is today; he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. For all practical purposes Christ was crucified as soon as Adam fell, for God 'calleth those things which be not as though they were.' Christ was given at that time. The sacrifice on the part of God, to give His only begotten Son, was already made; God loved the world then just as much as he did four thousand years later.
"If it had not been that Christ was given for man's redemption, death would have ended all for Adam, and for all the human race. But the promise of a Redeemer carried with it another probation, and so the execution of the sentence was suspended until it should be seen what use men would make of that probation. God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31); and until that time the sentence will be held in abeyance. Christ has suffered it, and all who receive him, receive the penalty in him, and his life answers for theirs. But those who reject the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God will abide on them. They will receive the penalty in themselves, and thus the course of sin will be brought to a close, and the law will be vindicated" (E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, Aug. 4, 1890).
Thus, Christ's sacrifice was effective from the date God promised it, so it covered the entire human race as comprehensively as Adam's sin. This is the Good News of the Gospel as taught by the 1888 messengers. It places each individual solidly on the same footing as the next person. No one is at a disadvantage, because all have the same advantage by virtue of their position in Christ. Since it has all been accomplished by Christ, our works flow from gratitude, not the need for assurance that God loves us. God gave us His Son. That proves He loves us.