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Mechanics of Spiritual Testing
Judges 2:20–3:6
Judges Lesson #007
July 23, 2000

The basic point that we get from the early verses in this chapter is like so many Christians they have an external identification with God, with Christianity, but in terms of day to day life in their own priorities they are really worshipping the value system of the culture around them, rather than letting their thinking be transformed and renewed by divine viewpoint.

Last time we looked at reversionism as a term that describes this process of spiritual decay. Reversionism is defined as an act of reversing, backing up, or going in the opposite direction. When someone gets saved sometimes there is a lot of excitement that goes with that, especially if their life has been a life of calamity, tragedy or suffering, and maybe there has been a time of psychological or spiritual struggle with distress or discouragement. Then a person gets saved and there is such a relief because of the confidence that they have, and everything is great and they get excited and are going to church, positive to doctrine, and they are advancing for a while.

Then all of a sudden all the issues in life begin to distract them, because what happens as we grow as believers is that we face tests. We can either respond to those tests in positive volition by applying doctrine that we have learned, or negative volition in trying to handle them on our own terms based on problem-solving devices of the world around us, whatever they might be; but it is turning one’s back on God, abandoning God, and turning to the techniques, the modus operandi of the world to solve problems.

That is, then, a reversal in the spiritual life where one starts going in the other direction. Spiritual growth is stunted and, in fact, it is reversed. We are either going forward or backward in the spiritual life, we don’t stand still.

So reversionism, then, is the act of reverting to a former state—that of being an unbeliever, habit—you solve problems by what was comfortable before you were saved. These are old habits. Psychology always says that if you are going to solve the problems in your life you have to understand why you have to go back and go through your childhood and understand all these dynamics. That is just a lot of balderdash because the Scripture never approaches it that way.

The way Scripture looks at it is that man has bad habits. The day we were born up until the time you were saved, and even after, you were developing bad habits of how to face life. That was based on your own sin nature and your own attempt to make life work on your own terms apart from God. Everybody does that. So we get these ingrained habits and the principle of Scripture is that we have to go in and take them apart, one issue at a time, by applying doctrine, and eventually we break those bad habits of thought, bad habits of reaction, bad habits of emotional sins, whatever they may be, and we begin to grow.

Reversionism is going back to that old state of being an unbeliever—carnality, bad habits, wrong belief systems and practices related to pre-salvation sinning. Reversionism, then, is a reversal of your priorities where spiritual life, spiritual growth, and your relationship to God is no longer number one.

So it is a reversal of your priorities, your attitudes, your affections, and the object of your personal love is no longer God but the things in the created order, which is always accompanied by the destruction of your ability to exercise impersonal love. All of a sudden now system testing and people testing becomes a major source of distraction in your life and is usually destructive. It is always accompanied by a change of lifestyle, habits, and personality.

First of all, we have the stage of reaction distraction where some issue in life, some problem, some testing comes along—some temptation from either outside or internally from our own sin nature—which causes us to focus on our emotions, circumstances, or people, and we become distracted then from applying doctrine.

The second stage: As we get away from the Lord we begin to realize a level of unhappiness in life and misery, so we go on a frantic search for happiness and we start trying to find meaning in life from some detail of life—friends, family, career, success, sex, drugs, alcohol, entertainment, escapism, whatever it might be. Every person has a different focus when they go on a happiness binge.

2 Timothy 3:4 describes this as being lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God. This eventually leads to soul poverty—Psalm 106:15, relating to the Jews when they were in the wilderness and God said that He gave them their request—He fulfilled what they had asked for in their prayers.

What they were asking for was something they thought would give them happiness, but when God gave them the desires of their heart, He sent leanness to their souls. In other words, they got that they wanted but it made them unhappy. The Jews’ problem was their spiritual life, so when they got what they wanted, it just increased the poverty in their own souls.

This then leads to the next stage which is the emotional revolt of the soul. Instead of emotions being a responder to what you think, the emotions begin to dictate. When you get involved in emotionalism you are on the way to subjectivity because then you start interpreting everything in life in terms of how it makes you feel.

If you are prone to arrogance, as we all are, and self-absorption, then as soon as somebody says something you immediately take offense. We live in an era today when people are just overwhelmed by hypersensitivity from self-absorption. What this always reveals is that people just don’t have a sense of humor anymore.

The next stage is ingrained negative volition. By this time negative volition has become so entrenched in your thinking that it is very difficult, though not impossible, to back up again. At this point God almost gives you over to the hardness of your heart. It is still possible if you are alive to reverse course, but when you reach this stage what you have to do is put yourself on an extremely intense course of doctrine, because you are so entrenched in wrong thinking, erroneous lifestyle, and bad character that you almost have to go through spiritual boot camp to get something reversed.

Ingrained negative volition then leads to blackout in the soul. This is the believer who has made a lifestyle of walking in darkness. Like the unbeliever, he loves the darkness rather than the light, and if you start confronting them with Scripture, boy are you going to get a reaction! If you start talking to them about what Scripture says, all of a sudden you are (allegedly) judging them, you are arrogant, you are against them, you are not on their side at all, you can’t be their friend anymore, and you may never hear from them again. They are in complete reaction to any kind of truth. This is because of the next stage.

The next stage is where they have built up scar tissue in the soul. They have become so calloused, their thinking has been so hardened to the truth that they aren’t even aware that they are resisting the truth anymore. They have reversed everything in their thinking so that good is bad and bad is good, and this is the final stage—kosmic degeneracy, meaning that they are thinking completely like a citizen of the world.

Worldly thinking dominates and produces degeneracy (moral and/or immoral), and their lifestyle doesn’t look any different from the unbelievers around them whether they are moral or immoral. They are completely degenerate in their thinking now and there is nothing in their life that distinguishes them from an unbeliever.

This is the situation in Israel at this time. They have rejected God completely and they act no differently from the Canaanites and the Canaanite culture that surrounds them.

When we come down to Judges 2:20, we see God’s response. “And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel.” Is this figurative language or is it literal language? In other words, is the writer of Scripture using something within human experience to communicate something analogous in God so that we can understand His operation, His policy, by analogy, or is he speaking literally?

We know that anger is a sin. So the first thing we have to ask is that if this is God’s anger it is not going to be the same kind of anger than man has, which is usually energized by selfishness in failing to get his own way. But there is more to it than all of this. The issue is always the question as to whether we are talking about something literal or something figurative.

Defining terms: The word “anthropopathism” comes from two Greek words: ANTHROPOS meaning man; and PATHOS meaning emotion. The word is defined as language of accommodation—God is accommodating Himself to our frame of reference—that ascribes to God human passions, emotions, thoughts, and attitudes which He does not actually possess, in order to reveal and explain Himself to man.

It is used to relate divine policy, divine acts and decisions to the finite mind of man. Examples of an anthropopathism include: grief: Genesis 6:6; repentance: Exodus 32:14; vengeance: Isaiah 1:24; hatred: Psalm 5:5; anger: Deuteronomy 29:23; jealousy: Exodus 34:14.

The word anthropomorphism: language of accommodation that ascribes to God human physical characteristics which He does not actually possess, e.g., the eyes of God, the nose of God, the ears of God, etc. This is to explain His essence, His policy, acts, and decisions in terms of human anatomy.

When we come to looking at a phrase like “the anger of God,” it is not a literal term in the Hebrew. The literal translation is “God’s nose burned.” Is that a literal expression or is that a figurative expression? It is a figurative expression; it is an anthropomorphism.

What is the point in using these kinds of images? The point is to illustrate the severity of divine judgment. God is perfect righteousness; this is His standard. He is absolute righteousness and cannot have a relationship with any creature that does not measure up to His absolute perfection. Justice is the application of that standard to His creatures.

God’s love is His unmerited and unfathomable desire to do what is best for His creatures, and then God’s grace is the expression of all of that, it is the expression of His integrity toward mankind.

When the righteousness of God is violated then the justice of God must condemn, punish, or discipline the creature. If God’s righteousness is violated and His grace and His patience is taken advantage of, then what happens is God’s judgment, because of the seriousness of the violation, is extremely severe and harsh. In order to communicate that in such a way that we understand it, harsh terms like God’s anger and wrath are used to express that.

Notice that between Judges 2:14, which says that the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and Judges 2:20, where it says the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, everything is an expression of the judgment and discipline of God on the nation.

So we should review what divine discipline means. Divine discipline refers to all the punitive action which is taken by the justice of God and motivated by His grace and love. Discipline may be harsh and painful but it is motivated by love.

So this refers to the punitive action taken by the justice of God, motivated by His grace and love, to correct, to punish, to encourage, to train, and to stimulate the believer’s volition to execute the plan of God. Divine discipline is parental training for sons of God, designed to inculcate humility and true objectivity in life.

If we don’t learn to orient to grace and to doctrine and we go through life operating on subjectivity then we make the same mistake the Jews made. We become the ultimate reference point for our own life and so all meaning and value is determined by how it makes us feel, which is subjectivity. We focus, then, on an external and objective revelation from God.

There are three stages of divine discipline. There is warning discipline which encourages the believer to recover. There is intensive discipline which encourages the believer to get out of reversionism. Then there is dying discipline which is the final stage of the sin unto death when the believer has failed so miserably that God decides to take them out early and remove them from the planet. God doesn’t do that with a lot of believers who are failures, as we may have noticed, and we may ask why it is that God has left that person who has screwed up his life so desperately and is so deeply enmeshed in carnality. Why are they still alive? To test the rest of us. We have to ask ourselves sometimes whether we are on earth to glorify God or to be a source of testing for other believers.

Judges 2:14 And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them …” This is designed to show that God controls history and the events of history.

One point that we need to remember is that God has determined in eternity past that His sovereignty and human freedom would co-exist in human history. So man has exercised his volition negatively and God responds through His sovereignty, and He is going to control history to bring about discipline.

What we should notice here is that this brought military and economic disaster on Israel, but the cause was not military failure or bad economic policy. The cause was spiritual failure. “ …and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.”

Judges 2:15 – “Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them. And they were greatly distressed.” The “evil” is not moral evil, it is horrible circumstances. All of this demonstrates that God is faithful to His covenant because in the Mosaic covenant God had outlined that He would punish Israel if they disobeyed Him and went and got involved in idolatry and the fertility religions. So even if they broke the covenant God is faithful to the covenant and so He is punishing them.

Judges 2:16 – “Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, who delivered [caused them to be delivered] them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” The word there for “raised up” is the Hebrew word in the hiphil stem which indicates that God causes the action. The word for “delivered” is yasha and it is translated yeshua in the noun, which is also translated Joshua, and is the Hebrew rendering for the name of Jesus.

It means to deliver or to save and is a picture of God’s saving grace in the nation. We must remember when we look at this that it is always God in His grace who exercises the initiative to save man. God’s grace is not dependent upon human action or human volition; it is motivated exclusively by His character and His love and not by man’s actions. So God in His grace exercises the deliverance option for Israel in order to take the pressure off to give them the opportunity to get back in positive volition.

Judges 2:17 – “And yet they would not listen unto their judges, but they played the harlot after other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked in, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so.”

Scripture always uses sexual analogies to represent man’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. Israel is in a covenant relationship with God, His loves is described as chesed which means covenant faithfulness, and it is the same concept as what takes place in a marriage contract. When we get married we basically enter into a covenant with our spouse. When we are unfaithful to that covenant that is called adultery, so God uses that term “adultery” to relate to any kind of covenant unfaithfulness.

Thus it is applied to God and His relationship to Israel. Israel has broken the covenant and become unfaithful to God, so He uses the image of adultery and prostitution to illustrate the seriousness of that action.

The interesting thing here is that the word for “turning aside” is the piel of the Hebrew word shuv which means to turn. This word is sometimes used in analogy with “repent,” and is used sometimes to refer to God as it is in verse 18. But this is the only time that this concept is used in this section. It is not to describe Israel turning to God, it is used to describe their turning from God to idols.

Judges 2:18 – “And when the LORD raised judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for the LORD was moved to pity by their groanings because of those who oppressed them and harrassed them.”

The Hebrew here is much more illustrative for us than what we find in the English translation. First of all we have the verb for “raised up,” the hiphil perfect of the verb qum. The Lord raised up or elevated, and this shows God’s grace initiative in human history.

He caused these men to be elevated to positions of leadership. This is a function of God’s sovereignty working with human freedom. God did not force these men into their position; He did not override their volition. In many cases God gave them the Holy Spirit, not for their spiritual life but to enable them to have military victory.

When the Lord raised up the judges He was “with the judge.” This is an interesting preposition in the Hebrew, im, and it refers to action done jointly with another. That is just one of probably twenty different meanings. It indicates that God is working along with the individual. This is God’s sovereignty working in conjunction with human responsibility and human free will.

Then we have an explanation, “because the Lord was nacham.” The word is translated to turn or repent or change the mind, but it is, again, an anthropopathism. God does not repent like man repents.Iin fact what this describes is the fact that God has flexibility in human history.

God is flexible in response to man’s decisions, and when man chooses to be a failure, God is going to respond and change the circumstances for that individual so that he goes through discipline and negative circumstances. When man is disobedient God is going to be flexible and reverse His policy that He can discipline or, after a while, deliver them and lighten up on the discipline.

So nacham simply means that God changes His policy: at this point from discipline to reprieve. The word “groaning” is the Hebrew word naaqah, which means basically means to whine, to moan, to complain.

Judges 2:19 – “And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.”

What we see in this snapshot of Israel is the same thing that happens in the lives of many believers. God takes us through a period of discipline because we are going through carnality or reversionism and things get miserable, and we begin to cry out to God or to somehow assuage God’s disciplinary aspects by showing up at Bible class a few times, and we used 1 John 1:9 although we don’t go any further than that. But we convince ourselves that confessing our sins consistently somehow means we must be growing.

But 1 John 1:9 doesn’t cause the believer to grow, it simply puts him back where he can grow and utilize the spiritual skills. But Israel is not doing that. They are just whining and complaining, and God lightens the load to give a little breather to give opportunity for a change of mind to start getting positive to doctrine. If they don’t, then He will come back and tighten the screws a little more.

Judges 2:20 – “And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel …” There is a gradual deterioration throughout the book that follows this pattern. From one judge to the other it gets worse, until finally we get to Samson and there is no deliverance and no judge to replace him, and he is just as much a corrupt pagan failure as anybody else around him.

The pattern is like this. First there is apostasy or rejection of doctrine and this leads to oppression from a foreign power, and then they respond by moaning and whining. Then God sends a deliverer, one of the judges, and that judge dies and they are back into apostasy. That cycle just continues. We can see that in the lives of many people.

Judges 2:20–21 –“… and he said, because this nation has transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded unto my voice, I will no longer drive out before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died.”

In the Hebrew He doesn’t call them Israel, He calls them “this goyim.” This is a term usually used to refer to Gentiles; rarely in the Scriptures does it ever apply to Israel. This is an insult and what it means is that they are acting no different from the Gentile nations around them. There is nothing to distinguish them, they are not living in light of the covenant that God has given them and they are disobedient to God.

Just as Israel goes through the outside pressure of adversity from these various enemies, so we go through the outside pressure of adversity from all types of sources. What is going to happen is that God is going to allow these enemies to continue in their midst inside the land.

That is analogous to the believer who still has a sin nature, the enemy of the soul, operating in his body. This is a source of continuous testing for us and the purpose of that testing is to demonstrate our character, to demonstrate what the value system is for the individual going through the testing.

The verb for testing is nasah, it is in the piel stem, the intensive form, and it means to test or to try something in order to attempt to learn the true nature of that thing. So the test is designed to test our true nature and what is really going on inside of our soul. So God is going to leave these nations in place in order to test Israel to determine whether they are obedient or not.

Then in chapter three we see the nature of this. It is just a quick summary and list of all the nations that God left there. Judges 3:1-5 – “Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel …” They are listed in verse three.

In verse 5 we see Israel’s co-existence with the pagans and pagan thought. Judges 3:6 – “And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” That means they are totally assimilated into pagan culture.

In conclusion, what we see in all of this is that the compromise in solving the problems and adversities of life leads to the reversionism of the believer, the paganization of his thinking, and the paganization of the culture. We have to remember that the divine solution is the only solution and that the human solution is no solution.

When the human solution is adopted instead of the divine solution the result is always going to be personal misery, catastrophe, degeneration, and when we do so, life will never be as miserable. We have to remember that as goes the believer so goes the nation. The only solution is exclusive dependence upon God, making Bible doctrine the highest priority in life, and our relationship with God and spiritual growth the highest priority in life.