Paganism and Tyranny – Judges 9:1
Open your Bibles to Judges 9, although we won't spend a lot of time here, we're going to pause and do a little introduction and reflection on why this material is even in the book of Judges. This is, in fact, a turning point in Judges and is an important chapter. I think Judges 9 along with 1 Samuel 8 are two of the most significant passage in the Old Testament that teach principles related to government, authority, and the problems of tyranny in government. Now it's sad to say today that very little thought is ever put into passages like this and very little is ever taught from the pulpit related to the principles found in these chapters and that's due to, I think a number of reasons that I won't go into, but there's just not enough time the way sermon preparation and sermon development is taught today to develop significant ideas. Anything that is of tremendous worth and value takes more than 20 or 30 minutes to develop and when you reduce your sermons to 15, 20, 30 minute little snippets you don't have time to really help people develop thinking skills so that they can understand how the Bible relates to every arena of life, every thought arena.
The essential issues in life are always ideas; ideas influence everything; every facet of our life ultimately goes back to certain ideas and we have to be able to identify what those ideas are and how they influence our thinking. We can go back historically in the United States to the 18th century and the ideas that came out of both the Puritan theology of English Puritanism and the revolt under Cromwell in the mid 1600s, the Christian ideas that came out of the first great awakening starting in the late 1730s under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards up in North Hampton, Mass., as well as George Whitfield and the Wesley's, we can think of the ideas that also came out of the British enlightenment, from people like John Locke, and others whose ideas influenced the thinking about government and the relationship between citizens and governing authorities. There was a tremendous amount of writing done, you go back and read in the Puritan literature of the day and they thought deeply and profoundly about what the Bible taught about kingship and about authority and about the citizen's responsibility and the king's responsibility.
And they also applied that in tremendous ways to theories of economics. And along with ideas that came from the secular community on economics all of this came together to influence the founding fathers and their writing of the United States Constitution, and all of those ideas, in the studies that I've done, those ideas crystallized only within a certain period of time, only within ten or fifteen years. If the American Revolution had taken place ten years later then we would not have the Constitution we have today, simply because as a culture shifts ideas change and different people come to the forefront and there would have been a different set of people in the 1790s or the first decade of the 1800s, there would have been a different set of people and the ideas of the French Revolution would have been much more prominent. The French Revolution took place in 1789 and the French Revolution operated on a totally different philosophical framework than the American Revolution because it wasn't grounded, it's always a mix, it's an error to think that America was a Christian nation. There were a lot of Christian ideas but there were also worldly ideas from the enlightenment that entered in and it was a different mix, but by the time of the French Revolution the radical ideas of the French enlightenment were much more to the forefront and much more influential. So that would have really changed everything.
The point I'm making is that ideas are important and ideas change things and ideas change cultures. And the point I'm making is that as believers we need to identify ideas and we need to identify the false, the pagan ideas that have entered into our own thinking because it affects every arena of life and we're going to see that in this next chapter.
Last time we finished looking at the doctrine of gratitude and the fact that Israel demonstrated a lack of gratitude towards God and for Gideon because they had no spiritual foundation, they had rejected doctrine, they had rejected all that God had given them and all the work that God had done in history in providing freedom for them and blessing for them and as a result of their inability to recognize that all that they had came from God, they rejected God again at the end of chapter 8, and they went back into the worship of the Canaanite fertility gods headed up by Baal and Asherah. This is what we've seen throughout the book of Judges, is that there is this continuous influence on Israel, and they continually yield to the pagan ideas, the ideas of the culture surrounding them. Instead of going in and routing out and destroying all the Canaanites as God commanded them, they compromised with them. As a result the Canaanites survived, stayed in the culture, and had this terrible influence on the future of Israel. We have identified their thinking as paganism.
Now I want to take some time just to give you a dictionary definition of what paganism is. So often people use it in ways that sound somewhat insulting or pejorative but it is really a technical term, and this is a definition taken from the American Heritage Dictionary. (1) the first meaning is that it describes someone who is not a Christian, Moslem, or a Jew, that is someone who does not believe in the God of the Bible in any sense. See, Jews, Christians and Moslems all in some sense go back to the Old Testament God. So it's someone who completely rejects the God of Abraham. (2) it refers to someone who has no religion, that's really a misnomer because even atheism is a religious statement. A statement, even though it's a statement by negation it's still a religious statement. You say there is God, that's a religious statement; you say there's no God, that's just as much a religious statement, even though it's by negation. (3) the third technical meaning of paganism is it refers to someone who is a non-Christian, and then (4) the fourth, which is a meaning we don't use but is more the, I would say more of a slang term, maybe one that's more popular is the idea of being a hedonist.
So I'm using it in its technical meaning of thought that does not derive from the Bible, therefore pagan thought is the direct opposite of divine viewpoint and Bible doctrine. It is called in the Bible cosmic thinking, from the Greek word kosmos, translated worldliness. So it has to do with all of the thought forms that man develops that are in contrast to the Word of God. Now they may take many different manifestations, some of which may even be in opposition to one another but they are all anti-Biblical and they're all contradictory to the Word. They have been defined in James 3:13-15 as the thinking of demons. So all worldly thinking is nothing more than demonic thought because it has its source in a rejection of divine authority. That's the key, that's what makes it the kind of thinking that is demonic or satanic, is because its starting point rejects the authority of God and God's right to define the way things are and the way He created things.
Now nothing, as we've said as we look at the end of Judges 8, nothing better illustrates the ingratitude of Israel than what happens in Judges 9. Chapter 9 is a lengthy chapter; it has come 57 verses in it all describing this odd violent period under Gideon's son by a concubine, by the name of Abimelech. Abimelech means in the Hebrew "my father is king." Now I want to remind you that Gideon, after his victory over the Midianites, was offered the kingship by the Jews and he rejected it, and he was still holding onto at least a form of what the Old Testament taught as truth. He knew God was the King, the theocracy was established under God, but he really didn't have a lot of doctrinal orientation as we've seen, so in Judges 8:23 he says, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you, the LORD shall rule over you," and that at one point is the height of Gideon's development but it's also the point where he begins to slide into self-destruction because he immediately begins to act like a king. He's like so many believers who say one thing correctly but their life and their thinking is so influenced by paganism that they can't ever seem to get their act together in terms of their spiritual life. And Gideon led the nation back into idolatry, the worship of the ephod, and from there, as soon as he died they immediately went back into full-blown Baal worship.
Let's fit this into the context; we're going to come to Judges 9 and Abimelech is going to lead a revolt, he's going to wipe out 69 of Gideon's 70 sons so there's no competition for power, and he's going to go into an ill-conceived bargain with the citizens of Shechem; they're going to appoint him king over the entire nation, then there's going to be this odd little episode down in verse 26 where Gaal, the son of Ebed reacts to Abimelech's leadership so he wants to lead a revolt against Abimelech which is cruelly and violently crushed by Abimelech, and then he kills the citizens of Shechem, and then we go on down and then he attackes Thebez and in the midst of that battle he is eventually killed, but it is an extremely violent time, it is a time where we see that there's no mention of God anywhere in the passage, there's no emphasis on doctrine, it just shows the utter depravity of the nation, their rejection of God and what happens to a nation when God is removed from the center point of their thinking because once God is removed authority shifts from God to man, and once man becomes the reference point, the determiner of truth and truth becomes relative, then that opens us up to tyranny in every category.
So what I want to look at this morning is the relationship of paganism to tyranny and the point that we must come away with that apart from the influence of Christianity there has never been a nation in history…let's revise that, apart from the influence of Judeo-Christian thinking, because we want to pick up the Old Testament, apart from the influence of Judeo-Christian thinking there has never been a nation or a body of people to experience any level of freedom. Paganism always produces tyranny and it doesn't just produce tyranny in the government, but it produces tyranny in every single divine institution and that's what I want to go through this morning because it's going to help us understand how the shift in our nation to full-blown paganism over the last 30 years has produced a number of characteristics, all the violence that we see, the violence in the home, abuse, parental abuse, spousal abuse, abuse of drugs, rampant homosexuality, sodomite activity from Romans 1 are all the byproduct of the rejection of God and rejection of Biblical absolutes. So let's fit this in to the whole flow of Judges because this is why this book is in the Bible; the writer wants us to see things and to see in living history what happens when a people reject God as the ultimate source.
We see a decline throughout the book, it starts with the first judge, Othniel, of whom nothing negative is said, he is spiritually mature, he operates on the faith rest drill, he has a wonderful relationship with his wife, Achsah and Achsah too is presented as one who is spiritually mature who has good manners, she presents herself to her father in a way that recognizes his authority and she plans for the future. But from that point on we see a deterioration, not only in the spirituality of the judge but in how men and women relate to each other and how the nation, the citizenry of the nation handles their problems. The first problem is they get into idolatry and they are oppressed by the Moabites and God sends a deliverer, Ehud, and we begin to see even in Ehud's methodology that he is beginning to utilize the same approach to problem solving that the Canaanites around him used. There seems to be a lack of influence or a concern about God and there seems to be an attitude there that he is self-sufficient, even though God has raised him up.
Then we find Deborah and there we have God using a woman to judge, not to teach Scripture, not as someone who handles the Word but as someone who fills the gap because there's a lack of male leadership. What happens in paganism is you start seeing the developing outworking of the curse in Genesis 3 where the man begins to duck responsibility and women begin to try to assert themselves to take control in the roles that are designated for the male. Of course all of that is completely rejected by modern 20th and 21st century American thought.
Then we come to Gideon and we see that Gideon lacks doctrinal orientation and God has to teach him a few things before Gideon can even trust him to give him victory over the Midianites. This is going to further deteriorate with Jephthah and there we're going to start seeing how the role of woman and how it has deteriorated so under paganism because his daughter will be offered as a burnt offering to God, so there we see an abusive situation and how women begin to be treated more and more as objects of a means to a goal. And then we see Samson who is portrayed as more of a sexual predator and very abusive, and then there's a couple of other odd situations toward the end. So we see this deterioration through this whole period as the nation succumbs more and more to the thinking of the Canaanites around them.
The writer makes his point very clearly that the nation goes from disobedience to discipline from God and then they cry out to God for help and God sends a deliverer, but as soon as the deliverer disappears once again they operate on disobedience and they're just right back under divine discipline as outlined in Leviticus 26. So this is a continuous cycle and it just deteriorates as we go through time.
The theme in Judges is expressed in four key verses: Judges 17:6; 21:25 are identical. Those verses state, "In those days there was no king in Israel," and that's not merely a statement that well now we're living in the monarchy and in those days there was no monarchy, but it's a statement that they had rejected God as the theocratic king; God was under the Mosaic Law the executive branch of government. That's what a theocracy means, God rules. "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." The point is, you take God out of the picture then the only thing that's left is for people to be the final determiner of what is right and wrong and the final arbiter of truth. So everybody does what's right in their own eyes. And in two other passages the writer makes this same point. Judges 18:1, "In those days there was no king in Israel," and Judges 19:1, "Now it came about in those days when there was no king in Israel."
Now the backdrop of this is that this book was probably written and pulled together during the time of Saul's kingship, when there is a king in the land, and what has happened by that time is that in 1 Samuel 8 the people got together and they came to Samuel and said we're tired of not having a king, we want to have a king like everybody else. And in 1 Samuel 8 God tells Samuel to warn the people that if you get a king what he's going to so is he's going to increase his retinue, he's going to increase the bureaucracy, he's going to increase taxes and it will be a burden on people. But when people reject God then they want to be like everybody else and what happens is they begin to lose freedom. What has happened in Israel, under the Mosaic Law, God gave them the greatest system of freedom every to be experienced in history. If you were living in the ancient world at that time you have to the southwest of Israel, Egypt; to the northeast and to the east you had the Mesopotamian cultures, to the northwest you have the Hittite cultures and they were all dominated by strong authoritarian kings. There was very little freedom. People were basically inconsequential and they were there to serve the king and do whatever the king wanted them to do. It was a time of tremendous tyranny over people. And if you traveled throughout the ancient world and suddenly came to Israel you saw a nation that had no visible king; there was no visible monarchy, there was no executive branch of government. They had a relatively light tax burden.
See, we forget that the level of taxes is directly related to the level of freedom. If you don't have much money you don't have many options and if the government takes 60%, 70% of your wealth then you can never accumulate anything and you don't have any money with which to do anything and you basically become a slave of the government. I recently learned that the level of taxation now that the average American pays has surpassed the tax burden imposed on the American colonies and colonists in the 1760s and 1770s but nobody seems to be concerned any more because we don't understand that freedom is related to taxation and the more we're taxed the less freedom we have. And the problem is we don't want freedom, we don't want responsibility, we want security. You can have one or two things, you can have security or you can have freedom but you can't have both and when a nation has given up God they no want personal responsibility for their actions; they want some level of security given to them and guaranteed to them by a government so they're willing to give away their freedoms in order to gain some level of security and that's exactly what we see going on today.
So Judges is an argument that God has given to us to show why it was necessary to have a human king in Israel. God was established as their King but because they rejected divine authority, once you reject divine authority and slip into relativism, then eventually that is going to deteriorate into anarchy on the one hand. And the only way to bring order out of anarchy is to have some sort of rigid authoritarian system in order to bring order back from chaos. So the response to tyranny is always some sort of strong authority. So because Israel rejected the freedom that God gave them under the Mosaic Law, and because Israel rejected the freedom they had to not have a king, the only way God could restore order to this horrible mess that developed in the period of the Judges was to give them a king, and they would lose a measure of freedom by having a king.
We see the first move on Israel to have a king in Judges 9 but it is a kingship that is going to bring with it a tremendous amount of tyranny and loss of freedom, it's going to bring violence and subjugation and death, and it is one of the darkest periods in the history of the nation of Israel. The nation had gone back to Baalism at the death of Gideon and their focus was totally on material security because Baalism and all of the fertility worship in an agricultural environment was designed to produce agricultural fertility so that they would have success, so that they would have prosperity, so their crops would be abundant, so that they would not go hungry during the winter months and so ultimately everything is motivated by a materialism. But at the core of that there is religious apostasy; there is a rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that always leads to tyranny and a loss of freedom. It always leads to tyranny and a loss of freedom!
I want you to turn with me to Judges 2; in Judges 2 the writer has outlined this cycle for us. I want to pick up on a couple of words to remind you of what we studied back when we went through Judges 2 and 3. Judges 2:11, "Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals." That word for "serve" is the Hebrew word, abad and that "d" doesn't have a dagesh so it's almost like a soft "th," and it means to work, it means to serve, but it also means to be enslaved. Sometimes it is used even in the context of worship and there is a nuance there that what happens to Israel, once they begin to serve the Baals, what happens is that they have enslaved themselves to this false worship system to the false gods. Again we see that the cause of this, "they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger." Then in verse 13, "So they forsook," that is they abandoned, they intentionally, consciously, volitionally abandoned God "and served," enslaved themselves to "Baal and the Asheroth."
Judges 3:6-7, "and they took their daughters," that is the Canaanite daughters, "for themselves as wives," they completely assimilated with the culture, "gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods." They're enslaved to the religious system of the Canaanites.  And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot," earlier they had abandoned God, here they forget God, it's a conscious removal of God from the thought system, the conscious thinking of the people, they "forgot the LORD their God, and they served the Baals and the Asheroth." They enslaved themselves to this religious system. Then it goes on to describe the cycle of God's judgment on them.
Let's stop and see that there is a relationship to the religious position and the tyranny that results. There is a relationship between their rejection of God, rejection of Biblical absolutes, and the adoption of this false religious system and how it works itself out within the culture and all the relationships within the culture. We'll break it down into several points to try to understand how all of this correlates.
Let's look at the doctrine of paganism and tyranny: point number one; tyranny is the exercise of absolute power, especially in some cruel or harsh way. Tyranny is not simply the use of authority. When you get in a society that has opted for relativism, where you or I become the ultimate authority for what's right or wrong, then what happens is we want to think anyone who is exercising authority, even if it's legitimate is being tyrannical. Why? Because we've rejected authority and that's what was happening in Israel, and that's why initially when there is the influence of paganism there is always this movement towards chaos and disorder and anarchy. Then there's always a swing back to tyranny which tries to bring order out of this chaos because what you see happen is that when people reject authority and they become their own authority, then what enters into that under relativism people begin to abdicate responsibility. And when people begin to abdicate responsibility then they start misusing all of the freedoms that the have.
We see that today with the rise of the drug culture and many other things that are going on, the media is no longer self-controlling, we have all kinds of examples of the invasion of privacy of everybody from celebrities to government officials and it's because there's no longer any understanding of self-discipline, self-master, any kind of self authority, everybody is doing what they want to do and so there is that push to chaos. So chaos develops. Then we see it again in terms of teaching responsibility to children in relationship to firearms. When I grew up there were at least a couple of shotguns in the house but I knew that if I even acted or thought about touching one that I might not ever have hand with which to touch anything again. Discipline was taught. When I grew up and probably many of you in a rural environment like this it was not uncommon in those days to see somebody driving in town with a gun rack on the truck and have a 30.30 or shotgun there and probably kid even going to school and you would see that, but nobody ever thought of going out and taking that shotgun or 30.30, whatever it was, and coming back into the school yard and shooting everybody. Children have always had access to firearms. If you grew up in frontier America the first thing you did as soon as a child was old enough to be able to hold a rifle was teach them how to use it so they could help starting putting food on the table. Children have always had access to firearms so that's not the problem, obviously. It has to do with their attitude, with discipline, with what's going on inside the home, the lack of teaching in terms of responsibility.
So when there's a failure to self-regulate through responsible behavior, then what happens is things break down towards chaos and towards anarchy. In order to provide stability in a chaotic situation what has to happen? You have to exercise firm control. So what we see is more and more government regulation to try to teach responsibility. Well, you can't teach responsibility so what you do is you take away freedoms. If you can't behave with responsibility then we're going to take the freedom away from you. And so Americans are losing more and more freedoms every year because they have abdicated responsibility.
So the first point, tyranny is the exercise of absolute power, especially in some cruel or harsh way. Thus it is the abuse and misuse of authority. Authority does not equal tyranny; tyranny is the abuse or misuse of authority. True or genuine understanding of authority can only come from the Bible. A true understanding of authority and its use can only come from the Bible and an understanding of the Triune God of the Bible. It goes back to understanding the Trinity. In the Trinity we have God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They are coequal, the Father and the Son are one, Jesus said, they have the same essence; they share the same essence, every attribute. There is nothing that the Father has that the Son or the Holy Spirit lacks. So in terms of their essential being, all their characteristics they are equal. Nevertheless, there are differences of role; the Father is the planner, He's the architect of the plan, the Son is the Savior and the revealer of the Father, and the one who manifests the Father physically in a human body in the hypostatic union, and the Holy Spirit is the one who is responsible for salvation and for communication of truth. So they have different roles and different authorities. The Son is subservient to the Father and the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son. We studied that, especially when we went through chapters like John 10 in our previous study of the Gospel of John.
So in the Godhead there is perfect equality of person but there is distinction of role, so there is an authority structure in the ultimate reality of the universe. Now that's important because a lot of people think that God created authority to somehow bring to control to sin. That's false! Authority is not something that's related to creaturely failure; authority is inherent to the Godhead itself and has been present in the Godhead throughout all of eternity. So authority in and of itself, therefore, is something that is good and necessary and is not something that is present in order to bring order out of chaos, but in order to provide for the accomplishment of goals in any structure, any society. And one could even say that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the plurality there represents a society in a general sense.
Without authority there is always going to be a trend in one of two directions. Without a proper understanding of authority people are always going to move in one of two different directions. The first direction is towards absolute authority or tyranny where there is an abuse or misuse, or cruelty or harshness to authority. And the other direction is towards anarchy. Notice, think about this, you're either going to move towards extreme control, tyranny, to you're going to move to the lack of control which is anarchy. Now think about that in terms of the sin nature. We all have a sin nature and that sin nature has two trends. We are going to trend either towards legalism…what is legalism? That's excessive control, that's tantamount to tyranny, or we're going to trend towards licentiousness and the lack of any kind of control which is tantamount to anarchy in the soul. So we always, just as the sin nature trends towards either excess of control or no control, so the collection of individuals in a society is always going to move towards excessive control of no control, always towards tyranny or anarchy. Those are the options.
So we want to make the principle, make sure we understand that tyranny is not the exercise of legitimate authority, even in a strong way. Some people are strong leaders, they have a strong sense of authority, other people who are leaders manifest their authority or utilize it in different ways. I just went through reading the latest biography on George Smith Patton, Jr. called Patton, Genius for War, and Patton had a very strong sense of leadership and a very strong sense of authority. And then you contrast him with the leadership style of someone like Eisenhower or Omar Bradley and you see how they manifested their authority was different. But they all had strong authority positions. Tyranny, therefore, is not the exercise of legitimate authority even in a strong way but is the abuse of power and the oppressiveness of power and usually in some cruel or harsh way.
The second point; Biblically authority is grounded in the doctrine of the Trinity. The principle of authority is not something related to human experience, it doesn't derive from human experience, it's not built on the fact that men are sinners but it's grounded in the fact that even in a perfect environment of the Godhead there has to be authority related towards the accomplishment of goals and plans. So authority, therefore, is related to function and is related to the accomplishment of plans and goals.
Point number three; sin itself is a rejection of divine authority. This is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Isha, the woman, she was not named Eve until after the fall, God told Adam and his wife that they could eat from the fruit of the tree of any tree in the Garden, but from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they could not eat, and if they did they would die instantly, and that was spiritual death, not physical death. But when the serpent came along and said to the woman, well what did God say, she said that God her not to eat or touch the fruit, she's already change the revelation of God in her own thinking, and then he said, Well has God really said… and by asking that question he's putting her in a position to judge or evaluate what God said so by yielding to that question, by giving it any level of legitimacy she's starting to put herself in a position above God to judge and evaluate the statement of God as to whether or not its true or false. And the moment she started doing that she was on that slippery slope that had only one possible conclusion, and that was sin, because she had legitimized his question and fallen into that subtle trap. And of course the text says that the serpent was the most subtle of all creatures. So she was rejecting divine authority. This is means that all rejection of authority is ultimately an attack on God for the creature is claiming independence from God. Any time that we disobey God we're basically saying I know better than God, I'm smarter, I'm rejecting what God says, whatever the consequences are they really won't happen or if they do they're not that bad, and in fact I'll probably enjoy a lot more [small blank spot] of course there's always grace.
So all acts of sin are ultimately statements, claims of independence from the Creator. This is why authority orientation through enforced humility is the foundation for grace orientation. We can't ever come to understand grace or have real gratitude if it's not grounded on authority orientation. This is why it's so important for you parents to be teaching the principles of authority to your kids, not by sitting down and giving them a lecture but by the fact that when they disobey you there are immediate and strong consequences. There is always discipline there because if they don't learn discipline through enforced discipline and obedience to authority in the home, then…eventually God's going to teach it to them, and if they have to start learning those lessons in their 20s it's going to be through the harsh realities of life that are going to be much worse than anything you can do to your children. And if they don't learn it in their 20s then when they get into their 30s it's going to…I think the horrors of learning, the pain of learning authority orientation increases geometrically as you advance with age. So the best thing you can do, parents, for your kids is to guarantee that they have some measure of stability in life is to make sure they understand the importance of authority and discipline from a young age.
We can't learn anything without authority orientation, we can't succeed in any endeavor of life without authority orientation and we can't advance spiritually without authority orientation. This is exactly the failure that Israel had, they rejected the authority of God but what that did was put themselves under an every worse tyranny, which was the tyranny of their own relativism and the tyranny of the false religious system that pervaded and operated in Canaan. Now today we may not have that same Baalism out there but there's all sorts of pagan influence sin American culture and if you reject you God you just enslave yourselves to the world system that surrounds us. And ultimately this is based on the sin nature.
Romans 6:16-17 makes this clear: "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey;" this is a universal principle. Whoever you obey, at that moment you are making yourselves a servant or slave of whoever it is in authority. And if that's your own nature then you become a slave of the sin nature. Paul goes on to says, "you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death," that's temporal death or carnal death for the believer, "or of obedience resulting in righteousness." Now notice, he didn't give you more than two options; it's one or the other. At any point in time as a believer we are either s slave to our sin nature or we are a slave to God. There's no other option. So only when we are a slave to God do we have real freedom. It seems like it's a paradox but it's true. Then in verse 17 Paul says, "But thanks be to God, that though you were slaves of sin," the automatic position of the unbeliever, he can do nothing but be a slave to sin, "though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed." So we can begin, when we reject divine authority, we become enslaved to the sin nature and the sin nature is going to push us in one of two directions, either towards control or lack of control, towards tyranny or towards anarchy in the soul.
Now this is going to begin to affect a culture, point number four. Once a culture, now that may be western culture in a broad sense, it may be the culture related to a nation, it may be a subculture within that nation, it may be the culture of an ethnic group within a nation, it may be the culture that you have in your home, the culture that's developed in a business…culture is a term that relates to all of the relationships and operations within a group of people. So you can bring that down to as small a group as you want or as large a group as you want to, but once a culture cuts itself loose from the absolute values of God, then it can only turn into itself to look for values. Once a culture divorces itself from God, the absolutes of God, then it can only turn to itself for values. It has to look somewhere for values.
Now think about that culture in terms of a family. Once a family culture cuts itself loose from the absolute values of God, then it can only turn to itself, so the people in that family, the mom, the dad, the kids, they become the ultimate determiner of truth and right, so they're going to doing whatever they want to do, whatever makes them happy, doctrine may not be a priority so come the weekend that's a time to rest, we'll go camping, we'll do whatever we do because we're going to have fun as a family. Or if the trends of their sin nature are going to push the mother and the father in different directions and that, because of their sin patterns and because of their sin nature can create all kinds of disruptions in that family culture. If there is a sin nature trend towards alcoholism, towards dependency on drugs, then that's going to enter into that family structure and the reverberating consequences are going to be felt for probably two or three generations. And the point is that once any culture divorces itself from the absolutes of God then it can only turn into itself for values.
I want to stop a minute and talk about culture because a lot of people don't understand culture. Let's think about it in a broad sense as a national culture. Culture is not necessarily going to the museum to see historically valued art, or going to opera or going to the ballet. That's not what culture means. Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought. That's one of the definitions in the dictionary. It is, secondly…[tape turns]…thus considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community or population. And third, the dictionary says it is these patterns, traits and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression. The point is, it's the totality of all the aspects of this social structure, whatever it is.
Now at the core of any social group is the religious values and beliefs, because religion affects values, it affects what's right and wrong. It affects your view of ultimate reality and ultimate destiny and how you get there and where we came from and what the purpose of man is and the nature of man; is man basically good or is man basically evil, i.e. a sinner. All of that is going to affect what you do and why you do it. So every culture, whether it's white culture, black culture, whether it's Native American culture, whether it's Asian culture, whether it's European culture, African culture, Indian culture, every culture is a blend of ideas. It may be 99.9% pagan and .01% Christian, or it may be as western, especially British culture was at the height of the influence of Christianity in the 1700s and 1800s, it may be as much as 40% Christian influence and 60% pagan influence. Or maybe it's even more than that, maybe it was 60% Christian and 40% pagan. No culture is 100% Christian; no culture I don't think in history has probably ever gotten before more than maybe 60% influence of Christian ideas. Now I'm just generalizing there, it's very difficult to make hard and fast rule but I'm just trying to make a point that we always have to be willing to evaluate our culture from the Word of God. Whether you are Western European, whether you're South American, whether you're Russian, whether you're Asian, you have to be willing to look at everything in your culture from the light of God's Word and correct it. No culture is going to be 100% right or 100% wrong because most of the cultural backgrounds, the history, habits, traditions, customs, all came out of paganism.
Let's look at Western Europe. It's popular today in a classroom to always attack white Europeans. Oh, that's the problem; you've just got al this European teaching. Well, it's really a subtle assault on Christianity, because modern European history is the result of the combination of the paganism of ancient Rome and Greece, plus the influence of Christianity in the post Christian era. And there was a tremendous influence of Christianity which radically transformed all the barbaric pagan ideas of Greece and Rome. So an attack today on Western European development, and although there are still a lot of ideas in Western European thought that are pagan, and developed a lot of ideas eventually, especially in 19th century liberalism that's the outgrowth of the enlightenment, which was a rejection of divine authority and it ultimately gave birth to social liberalism and to communism, to Darwinism and a lot of other facets like that, we have to always be willing to critique those things and that's true for every culture as believers. So we have to be able to look at our culture from the vantage point of the objective universal principles of God's Word and then change. So it's very important to understand this aspect of culture and a culture that's based on paganism, the more paganism that's there the more it's going to tend towards either control—tyranny, or lack of control—anarchy.
That brings us to point five; once God is removed from the system, once God is removed or distorted or misunderstood, then the concept of authority becomes muddled and confused and distorted for the purposes of individual agendas and subservient to the trends of the sin nature. Once you remove God, distort God or misunderstand God, then the concept of authority begins to get muddled and confused. It begins to get distorted and people start using it for their own personal agendas and that, of course, is going to be influenced by their sin nature trends, either towards defining authority in terms of chaos and anarchy and accusing anybody that comes along that wants to assert authority or make absolutes as being just a tyrant, or it's going to trend in the other direction of pure tyranny. So whatever you do to God is going to affect the view of authority in a culture.
Point six; once the concept of authority is lost, then the divine institutions begin to break down. Now remember, the divine institutions are those institutions God established for human society to function, regardless of whether you're a believer or an unbeliever, in order to provide stability in a nation. And they start with individual responsibility, divine institution number one; divine institution number two is marriage; divine institution three is family; divine institution four is government and divine institution five is the separation of nations. We'll go through that again, I went through that fast but I just want to remind you that those are the divine institutions. Once authority breaks down then those all begin to break down because every one of those is built on some system of authority.
So let's look at those: individual responsibility is divine institution number one. The authority in divine institution number one is volition. Once you begin to break that down with the rejection of personal responsibility, then the volition is always going to push towards either, because of the sin nature, either towards chaos or towards licentiousness or towards legalism and some kind of artificial authority.
The second divine institution, marriage; now this is how it breaks down in marriage; you get into paganism and the rejection of divine authority, the distortion of authority then what happens is in marriage where the husband has legitimate authority and is the leader in the home, then what happens is that the husband begins to either move towards no control, where he's just passive and lets the wife run everything or he moves towards excessive control where he begins to be abusive.
The same thing happens in the family, the third divine institution is family and authority is located in the parent. Well, what happens? We see it in our society, the parents either move toward no control where the kids run everything and the parents are so concerned about their jobs that they're never teaching the kids any principles in the home and they never take the time for the kids so the kids are just running wild and they go to school and the parents think the teachers are the ones who are to teach them discipline and values and everything else, and the teachers are pulling their hair out because the government won't let the teachers really exercise any kind of discipline in the classroom and so you see complete systemic breakdown in the education system. So that's if they move toward no control or anarchy in the home. The other extreme, when they try to bring order back is what? It's a reaction to that lack of control, all of a sudden there's parental abuse in the home, so there's always a swing from these two polls.
In the nation authority is located in the legitimate authorities of the government but once again when you have this page breakdown you're going to move towards anarchy in the nation and lack of responsibility and abuse of freedom and the only way to bring any kind of stability out of that is to impose some sort of tyrannical authority on the people in the nation.
So the thing I want us to understand here is this is exactly what happens in Judges, with this complete breakdown of authority in the nation, because of their rejection of divine authority and their succumbing to pure relativism in the nation, then what happens is the only way to bring any kind of order back is through this development of tyranny and there are certain characteristics of tyranny that's always abusive and destructive; it produces violence, there's a loss of freedom, it's destructive of everything that God had promised them as a nation, the health, prosperity, the abundance that God had promised them and we see just the horrors of what takes place in this…it's almost like a civil war under Abimelech and then God finally brings discipline on Abimelech, but Abimelech himself is a form of discipline on the nation. Note, up to this point the enemy has always been outside of Israel, it's always been a foreign power. Now we're going to take 57 verses, notice the writer has obviously slowed way down here to take 57 verses to get just inordinate attention almost to every detail of this weird event in Israel's history, because he wants us to pay attention to the fact that because of this breakdown of religion and the rejection of God, that now there is complete chaos in the land and it produces this tyranny that is just oppressive and destructive and violent. So next time we'll continue our study in Judges 9 and go through the episode of the first king of Israel; the men of Shechem made Abimelech the first king of Israel so he's not ordained by God but he is the first king established over Israel.