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Keep Judah Out Front!

January 19, 2012

Judges chapters 19 and 20 record a rather intriguing tale. A Levite and his family are traveling from Bethlehem to Ephraim.  Along the way the sun began to set on them and as night fell the servant suggested they lodge in the city of the Jebusites.  The Levite refused to turn into the city of foreigners; he believed if they could make it to Gibeah or Ramah they would be safe.  He trusted in his brothers and sisters and knew that he would be looked after in the cities of Israel.

The band arrives in Gibeah and instead of finding the warm, brotherly embrace he had imagined, they are treated in the most horrible fashion imaginable.  Wicked men from the city surround him, attempt to murder him, kidnap his wife and do violent and despicable acts to her.  Only one man in the entire city has the courage to stand against the crowd, but he isn’t strong enough to stop them.  All night long the city streets echo with cries of this tormented woman.  In the morning, as the dawn brings silence the Levite finds and gathers his wife’s remains and brokenheartedly lays her across his donkey and heads to Ephraim.

The Levite demands justice from the Elders of Israel.  The rape and murder of this woman becomes national news as the judges go to the leaders of the Tribe of Benjamin and demand the guilty be punished.  When the leaders of Benjamin refuse, each tribe begins to send it’s warriors to press upon Gibeah and exact justice upon the wicked.  400,000 men gathered against 26,000 of their brethren because they could not allow such villainy to exist within their borders.

The leaders of Israel, sensing the national feeling of war, go to the Lord and inquire what they should do.  The Lord tells them to march against Gibeah.  They ask Him how they should attack and He says “Put Judah first.”  So the tribe of Judah leads the charge into battle against a foe that was numerically weaker and surrounded on every side.  It should have been an easy victory, but on the first day 22,000 men of Israel were destroyed.  The second day saw 18,000 men fall.  The children of Israel were devastated.  They wept before the Lord.  They questioned themselves.  They wondered what could be the problem.  Why were the wicked defeating the good?  Why were the evil prospering and the righteous dying?  What was wrong with them?

But on the third day Israel crushed Benjamin.  Gibeah is utterly destroyed by the sword of Judah.

Have you ever faced a situation that you prayed about and felt confident in the will of God and you tried it and failed?  Have you ever heard from the Lord, did everything He asked and still failed?  I have. Israel did.  They reasoned with the evil doers, they assembled an army, they marched to Gibeah, they sought the face of God, they heard His voice and obeyed and 40,000 of their men died.  What do you do when this happens?  How can we overcome a senseless defeat?  How do we recover when we’ve failed but haven’t left the will of God?  I’m not talking about what you do when you’ve fallen to sin; but what do you do when you’ve done everything right and everything goes wrong?  What is the key to victory then?

The answer can be found in Judges 20:22: “And the people the men of Israel encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day.”  In other words, they just kept doing what was right.  They just kept doing what God had told them to do.  They lined themselves up the way they had before and they did what the Lord asked.  They didn’t try something different and they didn’t try something new.  They didn’t reinvent the wheel.  They got back up, they arrayed themselves as before and they got back to it.

They put Judah out front.  “Judah” means “praise”.  When everything was going good and they just knew God was on their side, they put the praise out front.  But when their world collapsed all around them – when death and despair surrounded them they decided to still put their praise out front.  I want to encourage someone: Don’t give up on praise!

I want to encourage somebody to hold on to your praise.  Don’t stop loving God because things aren’t going according to plan.  Don’t withhold your appreciation of Him because life beat you up.  Don’t stop loving Him because you met strong opposition.  Don’t quit worshiping God because the enemy smote you.  If it was God’s will yesterday, then it’s His will today.

We praise and shout on Sundays, but what should we do when Monday knocks us off our feet?  What should we do when the bottom drops out from under us, the roof falls on our head and the walls cave in around us?   What should we do when we get that phone call with devastating news?  What should we do when we get that ‘Final Notice’ in the mail?  Church, we need to array ourselves like we did yesterday, put our praise out first, trust God and do His will.  Don’t give up on praise.

Israel put their praise out front when nothing was wrong and when nothing was right.  If they gave up on praise after the first defeat, or the second defeat, then there wouldn’t have been any praise at the victory party.  If we can’t praise God in the darkness, the sun will never shine down on our rejoicing.  If we can’t praise Him during a trial we’ll never have a moment of triumph.  Don’t give up on praise!

Webster defines praise as “an expression of favorable judgment”.  When we praise, we’re judging God.  I want to encourage you to judge Him for who He is, not how you are.  God is stronger than any enemy we face and He’s greater than any victory we experience.  High or low, good or bad, we should neither praise Him nor withhold praise because of where we are.  Let’s just praise the Lord because He’s the Lord.  Praise Him, as you march back onto the battlefield of life!

Battlefield Priest

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