Today, we begin a new message series called “Rescued” based on the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a beautiful love story showing God working in the midst of a time of great distress in the nation of Israel. To help us better understand the book of Ruth, this morning, we are going to look at the historical setting of Ruth. The order of books before Ruth in the Old Testament is based on the historical timeline. We have Joshua, Judges and then Ruth.
In the book of Joshua, Israel conquered and occupied the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. The following book of Judges tells us what happened in Israel after Joshua died, up to the time of Kings written about beginning in 1 Samuel. The book of Ruth came right after the Judges and begins with this verse …
Ruth 1:1a (ESV) In the days when the judges ruled …
So the book of Ruth took place during the time period in Israel covered by the book of Judges. Today, we’re going to set the background for Ruth by getting an overview of what was happening during the time of Judges.
I’ve entitled today’s message “Against Culture.” The culture of Israel in the book of Judges was decadent, violent, rebellious and immoral. We will see many parallels between the time of the judges and our culture today. The book of Judges can be summed up in the last verse of Judges.
Judges 21:25 (ESV) In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
There was no godly authority in Israel, no adherence to the truth of God’s Word and idolatry was rampant. There was no absolute right or wrong. Each person made their own decisions about right and wrong based on their own opinions. Each person, in essence, was their own god and most worshipped idols rather than the true God.
As we study the culture at the time of Judges, we will be able to understand what is happening in our culture in America today. Our culture is spiraling downward farther and farther from God. Many American churches, trying to be relevant, are chasing culture down that spiral away from God’s Word. Many people today, including some who claim to be Christians, believe all kinds of things which are contrary to God’s Word. Yet they don’t want to study the Bible to learn the truth or to be taught any truth that contradicts their own opinion. So we will speaking of a very dark and wicked time in Israel’s history that parallels our culture today.
Yet, the book of Ruth is a book of hope, like a star in a black night or a diamond dazzling on black velvet. We will see in the book of Ruth, people who stayed faithful to God and one another. People who went against culture and were rescued by God. Next Sunday, on Mother’s Day, we will begin looking at Ruth chapter 1 with a message entitled “Radical Decisions.” But today, let’s look to the book of Judges to …
Judges 2:7 (ESV) And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel.
Joshua and the leaders of his generation had seen all the miracles that God had done to help them conquer and occupy the promised land. Because they understood the greatness of the Lord, that generation served the Lord throughout their lifetime. The culture of Israel was a god-fearing culture when this generation lived. However …
Judges 2:10 (ESV) And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
However, the next generation, the generation after Joshua, which included his children and the other leader’s children, was different. First of all, they did not know the Lord, they did not believe in Him, nor did they seek to serve Him. Secondly, they did not even know about the miracles that the Lord had performed to give them the promised land. How did the culture shift so drastically in one generation? Although Joshua’s generation conquered the Promised Land, they did not pass their faith on to their children. They did not teach their children about God’s miracles, nor train their children to believe in God. The results of this failure to pass their faith to the next generation were disastrous.
Judges 2:12 (ESV) And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger.
This new generation in the Promised Land abandoned the Lord, who had rescued the nation from Egypt. Everyone worships something. So, when this generation abandoned God, they began to worship the idols of the godless society around them. As they turned away from God, the lure of the decadent culture led them to bow down to idols.
Why do people worship idols, back then and today in America? Because idols offer something that people want. Back then idols promised good harvests. Today, idols promise money or pleasure or power. Really nothing has changed, only the names of the idols. The result of that generation abandoning God was that the Lord was angry with them. And that’s not a good thing because …
Judges 2:14-15b (ESV) So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. … And they were in terrible distress.
In His anger, God removed His protection from the godless nation. They began to be plundered and robbed by their enemies. Their idols could not deliver them and they were in terrible distress because of God’s judgement. That is how culture shifts, one generation at a time.
The last two generations in America have been named as the Millennials (20-34) and Gen Z (3-19). These two generations have seen massive shifts in understanding of God’s Word, engagement in decadent sinful behavior and a corresponding exodus from church. The changes seen were not seen in this age range in previous generations. We are seeing an accelerating downward spiral in our own time. The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist (13%) is double that of the rest of the adult population, including Millennials.
Why is this happening? There has been a failure of parents, schools and churches to pass on a godly faith to these generations. Yet, God is still at work in these kinds of cultures …
Judges 2:16 (ESV) Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
When the people were in great distress, they would call on the Lord to deliver them. Then God would raise up judges, leaders who were anointed by the Spirit to save Israel from their enemies. In the book of Judges, God raises up 13 judges. Two of the best-known are Gideon and Samson. These judges were flawed human beings, but God used them to rescue his people and turn their hearts back to Him for a period of time. However …
Judges 2:17 (ESV) Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so.
Yet, after the judges delivered the people from their enemies, the people no longer being in distress, did not follow the judges and walk in God’s ways. Rather, they prostituted themselves to other gods or idols. God equates idol worship with prostitution. A believer in a faith relationship with God is in essence married to God, as a bride is married to her husband. When they turned away from God, they offered themselves to idols for payment, just as a prostitute does. Not only were they unfaithful to God, they worshipped idols for what they thought the idols would pay or benefit them. The previous generation had followed God and obeyed Him, but they did not.
Judges 2:19 (ESV) But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
Once a particular judge died, the next generation became even more corrupt. They chased after all the pagan gods that were worshipped by the Canaanites and served them. Rather than obeying God, they stubbornly refused to repent or change their ways.
The last episode in the book of Judges, in chapters 19-21, just before the book of Ruth could have come right from the nightly news. I’ll begin the story and you can read it for yourself this week. The story begins with a Levite, a priest, who has a concubine who runs away from him. A concubine is a second-class wife, indicating that the Levite had multiple wives and marriage problems as well. The Levite finds the concubine at her father’s house and begins the journey back home. They arrive at the town of Gibeah in Israel at dusk. An old man ominously warns them not to spend the night in the town square and welcomes them into his home.
During the night, the men of the city surround the house, pound on the door and demand that the Levite come out so that they can rape him. The old man refuses and instead offers his daughter and the Levite’s concubine for them to rape. The wicked men refuse the offer and demand the Levite. Finally, the Levite forced his concubine to go out and the men of the city gang rape her all night long. In the morning, the Levite finds her dead on the door step. He put her corpse on his donkey, went home, carved her body up into 12 pieces and sent them to the 12 tribes of Israel. And the story goes on with much more violence, killing and ungodly behavior. There are no heroes in the story.
This is what happens in a culture that abandons God.
Judges 2:21-22 (ESV) I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.”
God here speaks and says that He will not drive out the remaining Canaanite nations from the Promised Land, as Israel was supposed to do. God would leave them around Israel in order to test them. The test was whether they would continue to follow the Lord or whether they would follow the idolatrous ways of the Canaanite nations around them. You see …
Judges 3:4 (ESV) They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
The ungodly culture around Israel was to test whether they would continue to obey God’s Word or whether they would follow the direction of the nations around them. Because of the close contact with unbelieving nations, each day would make clear a choice, whether to obey or disobey God. Remember, the generation of Joshua had obeyed God and God had given the land of Israel into their possession. Yet, every generation must make the decision whether to obey or rebel. Not only does culture test our obedience …
Judges 3:6 (ESV) And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.
Here is how a generation is completely lost from the ways of the Lord. When the children of godly parents marry unbelievers. It was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament for Israelites to marry unbelieving non-Israelites. It is strictly forbidden in the New Testament for believers to marry unbelievers. Why? We see the result in this verse. Oh, some think that if they marry an unbeliever, they will eventually lead the unbeliever to be saved. Yet, the result is shown in this verse, whether a son or daughter from a godly family marries an unbelieving spouse, they will all end up serving the idols of the unbelievers.
When you look at the state of Israel during the period of the judges or you look at the state of America, things may seem rather hopeless. Yet, God always has a remnant of faithful believers who follow Him. We will see that remnant as we begin to study the book of Ruth next week. Our message next week on Mother’s Day will be Radical Decisions. It will be an encouraging and hope-filled message. Invite a friend.
Even when we face a society that is increasingly turning it’s back on God, God is still on the throne. He is there to sustain and bless you as you refuse to go with the flow of culture. Instead, choose to go against our ungodly culture and see many who are lost saved.
One of the things about the times that we live in that encourage me is that the difference between true believers and unbelievers is becoming more and more apparent. For those with eyes to see, the fuzzy middle ground of those who claim to be believers but aren’t is beginning to recede. That is good. It’s hard for a person to be saved, who already thinks they are saved, but aren’t. This morning, choose to be encouraged and live against our godless culture. Live life in obedience to God, seeking to extend the godly culture of the church. As we do, God will be with us and we will see wonderful miracles happen.