Today we are starting at the end of the book of Judges, and we are going to finish the Old Testament. As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, the bible is actually one big story, told six times, in six cycles, and each cycle gets longer and more complicated.
Adam’s cycle was very short, very simple. It showed us what happens when God’s redeemer is disobedient: mankind is exiled from God’s presence and becomes corrupt.
Noah’s cycle was a little bit longer, and we got to see for the first time what happens when God’s redeemer is obedient: the result is God makes an eternal covenant of salvation with Noah, and with all his children.
Abraham’s cycle was a lot longer, and it actually set the stage for the rest of the Old Testament. God’s redeemer for that generation, Abraham, was obedient to God, so God made an eternal covenant of salvation with him and with his children. Three promises: one, Abraham’s children will become a great nation. Two, that great nation will have a safe country of their very own (as long as they continue to be obedient). Three, Abraham’s nation will one day produce Eve’s Son, the final Messiah, who will cure mankind’s corruption and redeem the earth itself.
God kept his first promise by the end of Genesis: Abraham’s children became a great nation.
God kept his second promise last week during Moses’ cycle: he brought Abraham’s nation into their own country.
So at this point in the bible story, God has only one more promise to keep to Abraham. All he has to do is produce Eve’s Son, the Messiah, and he is finished!
So here we are: Cycle number Five.
And the question on our minds is this: is God finally going to bring the Messiah, the redeemer that he promised to Adam way back in Cycle One?
Let’s find out.
So, looking at the chart that is printed on page seven of our worship guides, we can see that the cycle always begins with a problem. And the problem, here — again — is that the children of Abraham are in slavery to nations descended from Ham, the son that Noah cursed.
Now, why do they keep falling into slavery? Is it because God is not paying attention?
No, quite the opposite! See, God’s deal with them was quite simple: you live by faith as defined in my law, and in return I will keep you safe forever in your homeland.
But the people don’t keep their part of the deal. In fact, in the five hundred years after Moses, they actually got worse and worse, eventually committing all the most terrible sins against humanity that the sons of Ham committed in Genesis. By the end of the book of Judges, we have learned that the children of Abraham are just as corrupt as all the other nations.
So what else can God do? If he does not judge them for their corruption, then he is basically letting them get away with it. He cannot do that! But at the same time, he cannot wipe them out because he promised Abraham he would not do that.
So God is forced to bring judgment on them again and again — but he makes sure it is a merciful judgement. He lets the people fall into slavery, suffering, and oppression because he knows that only slavery, suffering, and oppression can turn them to repentance, and force them to cry out to their true God for salvation.
So the people are in slavery precisely because God is paying attention. Their recurring slavery is actually a sign that God has not given up on them.
So: at the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel we find ourselves back at Step One. And the problem is the same as before: the people need to be rescued — again! — from some domineering foreign nation.
But by this point in the bible, it is clear that falling into slavery is just a symptom of a deeper problem. The real problem is sin, selfishness, the corruption we have all inherited from Adam. So what Abraham’s children actually need is a cure for their corruption! Then they would never fall into slavery again.
But at this point in the bible, Abraham’s children are not yet ready to admit that they are the problem. They keep pointing outside, saying, “It’s those wicked nations out there. We need to stop them from bullying us!”
They have a victim mentality. And so their solution is not repentance. Their solution is self empowerment. They want a king. “God, give us a king to rescue us from slavery! If we were a kingdom, instead of just a collection of tribes, then we would be strong enough to resist invasion forever!”
But this is a bad idea. The solution to corruption is not more power. God taught us that way back in Cycle number One! Remember? Cain’s line was corrupt and violent. Seth’s line was faithful and powerful. Combine them, and what did we get? Powerfully corrupt descendants! It should be obvious, right? If you empower corrupt people, what you get is powerful corrupt people, who then use their power to dominate and disempower other corrupt people. A vicious cycle.
The real solution is: cure the corruption.
But Abraham’s children are not yet ready to hear that they are the problem. They want more power. They want a king. So in 1 Samuel Chapter 8 God says, “Okaylah! Have it your way!” And he gives them a king. Who becomes powerfully corrupt. A tyrant. Who leads the people right back into slavery and constant war.
What is the point? God is trying to help the people see that their real enemy is not the surrounding nations outside. Their real enemy lies within their nation: within each man’s heart.
So the first king of Israel himself becomes the oppressor in Step One. He becomes part of the problem!
Which leads us to Step Two: God chooses a hero to rescue the people from their oppression within and without. In 1 Samuel Chapter 16, the prophet Samuel anoints a shepherd boy named David: he pours oil on David’s head as a type of baptism, a way of saying, “you belong to God now in a special way: you are going to serve as God’s king.” So this shepherd boy, David, becomes quite literally, the Messiah of God. Because the Hebrew word “Messiah” literally means, “Anointed One.”
Now, Step Three: God makes a deal with David. It is really quite simple, the same deal God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses: “You save my people. Create a safe space for them. And in return, I will live with you and your children in that safe space forever!”
Now, to be clear: at this point in the bible, God doesn’t actually say these explicit words. He doesn’t have to. He shouldn’t have to. This is now Cycle number Five. By this point we are supposed to have figured out the pattern. That is how ancient writers worked: they would say something explicitly once, twice, maybe three times — and then they would trust their readers to remember what they said.
We have seen God choose Noah as a Messiah, choose Abraham as a Messiah, choose Moses as a Messiah. So now, when we see him choose David as a Messiah — very explicitly, by literally anointing him with oil — we are supposed to go, “Oh! Hey! This kid is special! God is making a deal with him! Let’s see if he keeps his part of the deal!”
Good news: he does.
Step Four: David’s story takes up the rest of 1st and 2nd Samuel. He goes through a time of testing in the wilderness, hunted by the corrupted king of Israel. He raises an army, he fights against Israel’s enemies without and within, and when the corrupt king dies, David becomes king. While he is king, he finally wins the war against the Canaanites, the sons of Ham who keep on enslaving the people. After four hundred years of constant war, finally David redeems the promised land and gives the people peace and safety and rest!
And as the capstone of David’s career, he conquers the city of Jerusalem and makes it his capital. Jerusalem, a city on a mountain, a city that the Israelites had been trying to conquer for hundreds of years, a city that was almost impossible to take. In other words: a very safe city to live in. A safe space for God’s people.
Which brings us to Step Five: the Sacrifice.
Though, in this case, it is thousands and thousands of sacrifices.
David conquers Jerusalem in 2nd Samuel Chapter 5.
Then, in 2nd Samuel Chapter 6 — the very next chapter — David goes and gets the Ark of God’s Covenant and brings it to Jerusalem.
Now, I’d better explain what this “ark” is. The word “ark” is actually just a fancy word for “box”. This is the “box” of God’s Covenant. Back in Moses’ cycle, Cycle number Four, God spend half of the book of Exodus giving Moses extremely detailed instructions on how to build a special tent for God to live in while he travels with his people. Part of the furniture of this tent was this special box, covered in gold, with angels on top, and this box was sort of like God’s throne, his sofa.
If you want to know what it looked like, watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. That will give you an idea.
So this special tent symbolized God living with his people. And this box almost literally was God’s presence. So, for the last five hundred years God has been living in a tent in a small town, even though his people have long since stopped travelling, and are all living in normal houses.
So David conquers Jerusalem, he’s creating a safe space for his people just like he should, and what better way to make Jerusalem a safe space than by moving God’s presence to Jerusalem so he can live right there with his people?
That makes sense total sense. So David goes and gets God’s throne — this box, this Ark of the Covenant — and he brings it to Jerusalem. The priests are carrying it on poles. And after every six steps, David sacrifices a bull and a calf. Every six steps. For kilometers.
Let’s pause and try to imagine the carnage. Thousands of bulls. Thousands of calves. There would be a river of blood flowing down that road, from where the ark started, all the way into Jerusalem and up to the highest point of the city.
Well, brothers and sisters, remember that for those ancient people, a covenant is signed in blood. For a creature to die at the moment of signing was a way of saying, “This is serious. This is a life and death agreement. We are bound together now by blood. We live and die together.”
King David is making a very powerful visual statement for his people. He is saying, “Look! The God who created the universe is bound to our city, our people by blood! If he lives, we live! If he dies, we die!” And since God cannot die, what does that mean? It means that people of God cannot die.
So, guess what happens in the very next chapter?
Step Six: the Covenant.
This is the passage we just read together in worship: the wars are over, David has turned Jerusalem into a safe space where God can live with his people, but he feels bad. Here David has this fine stone palace while God is still living in a five-hundred year old tent. So he says, “Hey, God, I want to build a palace for you. I want to build a house for you!”
But God comes back to him and says, “Ha ha ha! David, don’t be silly. This whole program is not about what you can do for me, it’s about what I can do for you! So let me tell you how this is going to work: you’re not going to build a house for me, I am going to build a house for you!”
Obviously, God does not mean a literal house. This is a play on words: God is going to build a royal family for David. He is promising that David sons will be kings, the kings of the “House of David”.
But now, let’s look at the details of the covenant God makes with David. Interestingly enough, it has three parts. Look at what God says in verse 8 of our reading: “I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth.” God said these exact words to Abraham, when he promised to make Abraham’s children into a great nation.
Then in verse 9, God says, “I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore.” This, again, is the exact same promise God made to Abraham!
Then, in verse 11, God says, “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house — a temple — for me, and I will establish his throne forever.” Sound familiar? This is the same promise God made to Abraham back in Cycle Three: “Through one of your sons all nations on earth will be blessed.”
So what is happening here? God is actually renewing and updating Abraham’s covenant with David. He is making the same three promises. One: David is going to produce a great nation. Two: David’s great nation will have an eternal safe space. Three, David’s great nation will be ruled by an eternal king, one of David’s sons.
But then God goes on to say one more thing, in verse 13: “I will be his father, and he will be my son.”
So, listen to what God has just promised: David is going to have a son who will be a king forever. This Son is the one who will build a “house” for God. Not a “house” made of stone: a “house” made of people. A great nation. A safe space, where God’s people will live in peace with one another and with the earth. And this Son of David will actually be the Son of God himself!
In other words, David’s eternal Son is the same person as the Son of Eve that God promised at the very beginning. It is David’s Son — who is also God’s Son — who is going to crush the serpent’s head and redeem the earth. It is David’s Son who is going to finish the job Adam failed to do, and then rule as king over the redeemed earth forever and ever!
And then, as God did for Noah, Abraham, and Moses, he gives David a covenant sign, an external, physical sign and seal of an internal, spiritual reality.
No, wait, he doesn’t. At least, not explicitly. But if we are paying attention, if we are remembering the pattern of the covenant cycle, we should be looking for something in the text, something physical, something that God says is going to last forever, something that David will be able to look at and say, “Oh, yeah! God made a covenant with me!”
Do we see something like that? Verse 11: “I will establish his throne forever.” Verse 14: “His throne will be established forever.” David’s eternal kingdom, David’s throne that he passes on to his Son — the throne itself is David’s covenant sign.
Which is poetic. Because if we recall, David just brought God’s throne — the ark of the covenant — into the city of Jerusalem as a physically symbolic way of saying, “God is the true king of Jerusalem, I just rule beside him as his servant.”
And now God has responded by saying, “Thank you for your faithfulness, David. As my reward to you, I am going to establish your throne in Jerusalem. A son from your house is going to rule beside me forever. But not as a servant: as my Son.”
And then, quite naturally, Step Seven: David lived happily ever after…
…we know better by now, don’t we. In fact, why don’t you tell me happens next?
Yes, David does produce a son, Solomon, who builds a house for God — a temple in Jerusalem. But Solomon is not the Messiah. Yes, he was David’s son. Yes, he built a “house” for God, like God’s covenant promised. But he used tyranny to get it done. He oppressed his own people, turning them into virtual slaves to build the temple. Because of this and his other sins, when Solomon dies God lets Israel fall into a terrible civil war and splits up into two kingdoms: north and south.
The northern kingdom rejects God from the beginning, and gets worse and worse until, three hundred years later, God allows them to be taken away into slavery and they end up scattered among the nations.
The southern kingdom, ruled from Jerusalem by the House of David, does better for a while — but five hundred years after David they too have become so corrupt that God finally allows them to be taken away into slavery by Babylon, a nation descended from the sons of Ham. You can read the details of those stories in 1st and 2nd Kings, and again in 1st and 2nd Chronicles.
And slowly, slowly, through these difficult lessons, the people begin to realize that their problem is not other nations. Their problem is that they keep failing to keep their half of the covenant, which is obeying God’s law.
And so, when God brings them back to Jerusalem seventy years later, they rebuild the temple, they restart the covenant sacrifices, they dust off all the old law books that Moses had written, and they do their absolute best to obey every single little detail of God’s law. They become an extremely religious nation. They think that if they can just obey God’s law well enough, it will fulfill the covenant and God will keep them safe from all their enemies forever, just like he promised Abraham and David.
Their intentions were noble. Their heart was in the right place. But they were missing the most important lesson of all: only the Son of Eve, the Son of David, can fulfill the covenant, cure them of their corruption, and make them truly obedient to God’s law.
And so, for the rest of the Old Testament — the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi — the people of God live sad and frustrated lives. They want freedom! But they are ruled by the Persians for one hundred years. Then they are ruled by the Greeks for two hundred years. Then they are conquered and enslaved by the Romans. And as the centuries pass with no Messiah to redeem them, God’s people become more and more corrupt, just like all the nations around them.
And that is where the Old Testament ends: with another crisis. How is God going to rescue his people from the corruption of their hearts? How is he going to rescue them from oppression and slavery to the Romans?
This is where Cycle number Five ends — setting us up for Cycle number Six.
So: what does this mean for us? What does God want us to believe and do in response to all this?
Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is the single greatest lesson we are supposed to learn from the Old Testament: we cannot cure our own corruption. Only the Son of David, the Son of God, can do that.
And honestly, as Christians, we should not worry too much about sounding like a broken record, because the Old Testament itself is like a broken record. We have just been treated to the same story told five times in a row. And the reason God tells the same story again and again is because we are stubborn. We are just as stubborn as the ancient people of Israel. We all tend to believe that our biggest problem is our circumstances.
We all tend to say things like, “You know what the problem is? The government.” Or, “I would have time to be a better father if I had a more understanding boss.” Or, “I would be more generous if I had more money.” Or, “I would praise God better if he would just heal me of this illness.”
But when we do this kind of talk, really we are making the same mistake as the people of Israel. We are telling God, “Our problems would be over if you would just give us more power over our circumstances.”
Allow be to be brutally honest here, brothers and sisters: when we talk like this, we are speaking with the voice of the world, the voice of corruption. It is Satan’s deception that tells us that our problems would be solved if we were more empowered. The bible shows us that this is utter nonsense! In fact, world history tells us that this is utter nonsense. Adding more power to the situation never cures our corruption, it just makes it worse.
So what are we supposed to do about this tendency we all have? How can we stop believing this lie, and start believing the truth that God alone can cure our corruption?
Well, the first thing God tells us to do is this: recognize this tendency within ourselves. Let’s start listening to how we speak about our problems to one another. We need to learn how to catch ourselves when we say some version of, “If only God would change this or that about my situation, then I would do this or that for him.” So step one: we need to learn how to listen to ourselves.
And this step is where we desperately need one another. The bible says that we are all born liars, and the person we lie to the most is ourselves. So we need brothers and sisters to listen to us, and help us hear how we might be lying to ourselves. I can tell you from personal experience that most of the time God reveals my sins to me by having some other Christian say, “Ian, as your loving brother in Christ, I just want to let you know that you are being a total self-deceptive jerk right now!”
I can also tell you from personal experience that this is almost always an unpleasant experience, no matter how gentle and loving my brother may be!
So Step One is learning to recognize our sinful patterns, which usually happens in a safe space community like this.
Step Two is learning to repent of our sinful patterns. As God, through the Spirit and through our brothers and sisters, begins to show us how often we put our faith in empowerment, we begin to learn how to say, “Oh, Jesus, help me, I’m doing it again!” And for this step too our brothers and sisters are essential to our growth.
Step Three is learning a new language to talk about our problems. Spirit-driven repentance leads to the desire to change. And the desire to change means the desire to take active steps away from false speech toward truly faithful speech.
This is what truly faithful speech sounds like: when I am confronted with my own failures, my own sins, my own weaknesses, God calls me to say this: “Father, I am in a difficult situation right now. I am frustrated. If it is your will, please rescue me! If it is your will, please change my circumstances! But if it is your will for me to continue in this difficult situation, please help me learn how to be faithful to you while I am in this difficult circumstance.”
And he will! That is our Father’s covenant with us. That is his promise: he will redeem us from our corruption. And the number one way he redeems us is through these three steps: 1st, recognizing false speech in ourselves. 2nd, repenting of our false speech. 3rd, learning how to hear and verbalize true speech.
See, the spoken word is powerful. The serpent used words to corrupt Adam’s mind. God uses words to uncorrupt our minds. That is why the bible is full of words! That is why, every week, we gather together to listen to words! And that is why it is so important for us to learn how to speak the words of life to one another.
But, allow me to be clear about this one point: we must not make the same mistake ancient Israel did. They came to believe that by learning the right words they could save their community from corruption, as if God’s word can have some magical effect just by being spoken out loud. We also have a tendency to believe that by learning the right Christian words we can save ourselves. But this is not true! Remember the number one lesson of the Old Testament: only the Son of Eve can rescue us from corruption! Yes, he uses the spoken word of God to do that. Yes, he uses the community of God’s people to speak that word. But there is one more necessary element: the Spirit of God must be present.
Next week we will be finishing this series with Cycle number Six: Jesus and his Church. And we are going to see that when Jesus came — the long promised Son of Eve, the Son of David — the biggest thing he did was send the Spirit of God to live among his people. Moses built a tent for God to live in. David wanted to build a temple. But Jesus built us, a holy nation. We are all just bricks in the wall of God’s living temple, and Jesus made it possible for the Spirit of God to live inside every brick!
We are going to hear a lot more about this next week.
But for now, let’s finish with this:
What does God want us to believe when we read the Old Testament? We cannot save ourselves from our own corruption; only the Son of Eve, the eternal king, Jesus the Messiah, can do that.
What does God want us to do because of this belief? Through the word, through the community, through the Spirit, our Father wants us to learn how to recognize when we are lying to ourselves, and saying that we can cure our own corruption through empowerment. Instead, our Father wants us to learn how to repent more and more as he reveals our sinful patterns of unbelief. He wants us to learn how to preach the true gospel to ourselves and to the watching world.
Let me give you one closing example from my own experience.
I have been married for almost 22 years. Many many times when I am in the midst of a difficult conversation with my wife, my heart cries out, “God! Deliver me from this woman!” This happens especially when I think she’s winning the argument.
What I am trying to learn is how to say this, “God! Teach me how to be faithful to you — and to my wife — in this difficult circumstance.”
I tend to be just like the ancient people of Israel: I want to believe that if I could just be delivered from my wife — and her incisive reasoning — then my life would be great.
But that is a lie, isn’t it! God gave me my wife to speak to me, to refine me, to tell me things I don’t want to hear, so that I can learn to repent and put my faith in Christ alone. God gave me all of you, my brothers and sisters, for the same reason. Through the Spirit of God, we have all been given to each other, in order to rescue us from our self-empowering corruption.
And again, let me finish with this very strong promise: God does not demand that we change ourselves. He has promised that we will be changed. Through the Word, through the community, through the Spirit, we will be transformed.
So let us not give up hope. Let us feed one another more and more with the gospel of Jesus’ deliverance. Let us eat and drink together the promise that Jesus our eternal King will carry us safely all the way home.