SERMON TITLE: Judges: The Least Grain of Grace
TEXT: Judges 4:1–24 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
Watch the sermon here
Take notes here
As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
We’re continuing in our Finding Jesus series today. This is a series where I introduce you to a book of the Bible that you may or may not be familiar with. I’ll give you an overview of the book — followed by a closer look at a particular section of it. And then — and this is what I hope will be most helpful — each week I’ll show you how to find Jesus. I’ll show you how to find the one story the whole Bible is telling — the story of Jesus. Because the whole Bible is ultimately pointing us to him.
Now — you may be wondering why I think it’s possible to find Jesus in all of the Bible. Well there’s an interesting story near the end of the gospel of Luke where — after Jesus was killed on the cross — he appears to two men who thought he was still dead. Somehow Jesus hid who he was from them — so they have no idea who they’re talking to — and Jesus gives them — and us — a hint as to how we’re to read and understand the whole Bible.
Luke 24:17–27 (ESV)
17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
You should circle the phrase “all the Scriptures” — in verse twenty-seven — because that’s why we do this series where I help you find Jesus in the Old Testament. In verse twenty-seven Jesus tells us that the whole Bible is about him.
In this iteration of our Finding Jesus series — we’re looking at the books referred to as the history section. What these books have in common is that they cover historical events in the life of God’s people. Some of the books cover hundreds of years while others cover a brief period of time — but — together — they are the historical account of God’s people. And — today — we’ll be looking at the book of Judges. So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Judges chapter four.
Last week we looked at the book of Joshua and in the coming weeks we’ll look at Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles. Then we’ll take a break for our Christmas series before we finish up the Old Testament early next year.
So — Lord willing — we will have completed our journey through the entire Old Testament in early 2024. And — on our website — you can search for our Finding Jesus series where you’ll find one sermon on every book in the Old Testament. A resource so you can discover what each of the Old Testament books are about and how to find Jesus in them. And I hope that you’ll grow to know and love these books and spend time in them — finding Jesus — and the joy that’s found only in him.
BACKGROUND OF JUDGES
Now — let’s take some time to get our bearings in the book of Judges — and I hope you’ll see that Judges is a book you’ll want to go read for yourself.
First, what do we know about the author of Judges? We know nothing. There’s a tradition that says Samuel is the author. This tradition is based on the time when the book was written and some clues you pick up in the book that seem to indicate that the author lived shortly after the time of the judges. But there’s no indication — from the book itself — as to who is its author.
“Well, OK — so what’s up with the title of the book — Judges — is this book about experts in law or something?” Not quite. Though the judges do — from time to time — make decisions related to the law — their primary role is that of a savior or deliverer of the people of God from their enemies. We see this early on in the book — in chapter two — where we read...
Judges 2:16 (ESV)
16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
So the judges are the leaders of the people of Israel before the kingship was established. In fact — the book of Judges highlights Israel’s need for a king — which the overview will make clear in a moment — but know that the book is structured as a compilation of different independent historical stories — thus it’s in the history section of the Old Testament.
Finally, the book of Judges covers roughly three hundred years of Israel’s history. For comparison, last week’s book — Joshua — covered somewhere between twenty to forty years. So know that — when you read the book of Judges — you’re covering a lot of time.
OVERVIEW OF JUDGES
So that’s the bird’s eye view of what’s going on — now — let’s turn to the book itself. To understand Judges you have to remember how the book of Joshua ends — which should be somewhat easy given that we looked at the end of Joshua last week.
The book of Joshua ends with a word from the Lord — spoken by Joshua — to the Israelites about choosing this day whom they will serve. Joshua says to them those famous words — words many of us have in our homes — “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Later Joshua says to the people...
Joshua 24:20–24 (ESV)
20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”
Then the book of Joshua ends — and the first two chapters of Judges begin by repeating content found in Joshua. And one would hope — right — that after such a bold, and compelling and — I mean — worthy of being hung on the walls of our homes — statement — that surely after such a display of commitment the people will fulfill their vow to God and serve only him.
Well…if you’re not familiar with the book of Judges — I hate to burst your bubble — but our book records the history of God’s people breaking their vow to God. The book shows — in vivid details — their unfaithfulness, idolatry, and sinfulness.
One Old Testament scholar suggests that Judges naturally divides into three major sections — and here are the titles he gives to the three divisions of the book. The Roots of Apostasy — chapters one and two. The Downward Spiral of Apostasy — chapters three through sixteen. And the Results of Apostasy — chapter seventeen to the end. You don’t even have to know what apostasy means to know that it’s not a nice sounding word. But — in case you’re wondering — apostasy means to “turn away from the faith.”
So the book of Judges is the historical recording of the people of God turning away from their faith in God. And this happens within a generation of those who made that great declaration, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” And a recurring theme in the book is a cyclical pattern — of sorts — where the people turn away from God, which results in them experiencing the consequences and punishment for their apostasy. In response to these consequences and punishment — the people eventually cry out to God for help. God responds by sending them a judge — a deliverer — who will rescue the people and turn them back to God. Then — after usually a brief period of time — the people turn away from God — experience the consequences of their apostasy — cry out to God for help — a judge is raised up by God — the people are rescued — only to turn away from God — starting the cycle all over again.
That’s the recurring pattern of the book — but there’s also a recurring phrase — a phrase found four times in the book of Judges — a phrase that brings the book to a close.
Judges 21:25a (ESV)
25 In those days there was no king in Israel.
As I said earlier — the book of Judges is setting up the need for a kingship to be established. But — twice in the book — this phrase is accompanied with even more sobering words. Words that — though we live in a nation without a kingship — these words describe our country a little too eerily accurately.
Judges 21:25 ESV
25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This is a time in history when everyone thought they knew what was best — wouldn’t listen to anyone else — they may have said things like “Well this is my truth” or some such nonsense. And — I can call it nonsense — because we know this doesn't end well for these people who are known for doing what is right in their own eyes. There’s a lesson here for us to learn.
Now — in this book — we encounter some stories you may remember if you grew up in the church. There’s Ehud — the left-handed judge — who rescues the Israelites by driving his dagger into the large belly of a wicked man. The story contains a bit of potty humor when — after Ehud had stabbed the evil king — and...
Judges 3:24–25 (ESV)
24 When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” 25 And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.
The king was dead — and Ehud escaped — because the king’s servants thought he was just having a situation in the bathroom.
Judges also contains the story of Gideon and his fleece — sorry — no potty humor in his story — and the story of Samson — the strongman whose weakness for women led to his end — and other judges.
But today we’re going to look at a judge whose story — I’m guessing — many of us will be familiar with. We’ll look at her story briefly before focusing on another individual. But neither of them are meant to have our attention — the point of their story — like ours — is on Someone else — the One who gives us grace. So hopefully you’ve had time to find Judges chapter 4 — we’ll begin in verse one. And notice the cyclical pattern of apostasy, consequence, crying out to God, and the raising up of a judge that I mentioned earlier.
Judges 4:1–24 (ESV)
1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. 4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him. 11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. 12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left. 17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
THE LEAST GRAIN OF GRACE
Let’s talk about the two heroic women in this story — Deborah and Jael. Deborah — who’s not only a judge — but also a prophetess — without Deborah stepping up with confidence and trust in her God — the people of Israel wouldn’t have experienced deliverance from the king of Canaan. She calls out Barak — she reminds him of God’s command to him — she reminds him of God’s promise — and she even goes with Barak into battle. In a few words the author of Judges tells us a lot about Deborah and her faithfulness to God and to the people of Israel. A remarkable woman indeed.
Then there’s Jael — a woman who seizes the opportunity presented to her. An opportunity — unbeknownst to her — that had been prophesied by Deborah. Though violent to our ears — and maybe off putting to our modern civilized times — she knew the wickedness of the man who stopped by her tent. And Jael was used by God to bring about the deliverance of his people. Again — another extraordinary act of bravery — of courage — of being used by God for divine judgment against his enemy and helping to rescue the people of Israel. Again, a remarkable woman.
But I want to turn our focus to someone else in this story. Not to draw our attention away from these brave women — but to help us discover the comfort of God’s grace that’s offered to each of us. For — I don’t know about you — but it can be hard to relate to the heroics of women like Deborah and Jael — just like it’s hard to relate to Stephen in the New Testament — who faithfully stood for Jesus as he was being stoned by others. For — there are these moments in the Bible — right — where people are so heroic that sometimes the best I can think is, “I sure hope I’d be that heroic if I was in a situation like that.” But we just don’t know what we’ll do, right?
But — then — as if he knows we’d need it — God graciously records the fumbles, flounderings, and unfaithfulness of his people — revealing to us how his grace, mercy, and faithfulness towards us covers our fumbles, flounderings, and unfaithfulness. The faith of Abraham is praised in the New Testament, but the times when he doubted God are also recorded so we can find comfort in our seasons of doubts. The same is true with Moses, King David, Jonah, Peter, Paul, and so on. Their stories aren’t just full of success stories and unwavering faithfulness — their highlight reels include their foibles so we learn something about God’s grace and faithfulness to his imperfect people — including us.
And this is true for Barak. Barak — a man who displays nothing but cowardice — a man whose story is seemingly one of only folly and failure — who — in our day and age — would probably be canceled or — at the very least — fired from his job. I mean — sure his side wins the war — but not because of him, right? So if we were choosing who deserves the grace of God — the favor of God — surely it’s Deborah and Jael — but Barak? He hasn’t done anything deserving of God’s grace. But — as some of you are already anticipating — grace isn’t earned. That’s the lavishness of God when it comes to his kindness towards us — his mercy — his patience — his love — and his grace — none of it is deserved.
I can imagine that many of us can relate to Barak. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m just not good enough” or “I don’t deserve God’s grace” — both of those statements are true, by the way — true for all of us — yet — are you ready for this — God gives his grace to us anyway. How unexpected is that? It should be to all of us who — like Barak — don’t deserve God’s grace.
I’m reading a book with my Life Group called The Bruised Reed. It’s by Richard Sibbes who was born in 1577. There are some challenges in reading really old books — but in this book there are many soul encouraging sentences. One of his sentences is where I got the title for this sermon: The Least Grain of Grace.
Here’s the quote: Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace. - Richard Sibbes
Sometimes we can view ourselves — or others — through the lens of their faults, failures, and screw ups — ignoring how the least bit of God’s grace in their life is changing them, transforming us, doing a powerful supernatural work. It’s easy to view Barak this way, isn’t it? What a coward — what a loser. Yet — in the book of Hebrews — in chapter eleven — a chapter known as the Hall of Faith — the author goes through story after story of Old Testament heroes. Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Rahab. And then the author says this.
Hebrews 11:32 (ESV)
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets...
Did you see it? Right there — in the Hall of Faith — Barak is mentioned. Though we don’t see it in his story in Judges — God’s grace changed Barak. God’s grace had to be at work in Barak’s life — otherwise how would his name end up on a list of those who are remembered as those who were faithful? Who knows the actual amount but — from our point of view — just the tiniest amount of God’s grace was all that was needed in Barak’s life in order to rescue the people of God from the king of Canaan. He looks like a coward — he was a coward — and yet God’s amazing grace was at work. And if this is what God could do in Barak’s life — what might God do in your life with the least grain of his grace? Please don’t disregard the power found in the tiniest amount of God’s grace in your life or in the life of someone else. Can you see his grace in your life — no matter how small it may seem? Can you see his grace in the lives of others — even those who don’t have their life all that well put together?
Do you want to know something that’s refreshing when you start to look for God’s grace in your life and in the lives of others? You experience the blessing of seeing yourself and others as God does. And he sees us as who he’s shaping us to be — who we’re becoming — who we’ll be for all eternity because of his grace in our lives. God give us eyes to see both ourselves and each other as you see us — give us eyes to see your grace at work in our lives. Can’t you see how this would sweeten our relationships, and shape the words we speak to ourselves and each other — words of encouragement and hope and joy because of God’s grace at work in our lives?
Who’s someone God wants you to encourage because of his grace at work in their life? Who is someone who — because of God’s grace at work in their life — you have been blessed by? How about we do something different right now and encourage them? I’m serious — let’s encourage them right now.
Get out your phone — “get out my phone — well this is weird” — and I know we’re all about silencing our phones in church — but if your phone is on silent right now — turn the sound on and turn your phone up all the way. I’m serious — phones out — sound on — volume up.
Now — that person’s name who came to mind — that person that God wants you to encourage because of his grace in their life — I want you to text them right now with a word of encouragement. Something like, “I am so thankful for God’s grace in your life. I’m a recipient of his grace through you when you open the door to the worship center for me.” Or “Because of God’s grace working through you, my daughter learns about Jesus’ love for her each week.” Or “That time you brought me a meal — I wasn’t only physically fed — but I tasted God’s grace because of you.” Or whatever way you’ve experienced God’s grace through someone else in this congregation — I want you to text them right now and let them know — encourage them.
Now — some of you are thinking, “But I don’t have their number!” If you don’t have their number — look around the room and text someone else. Text two people — I don’t care. If you don’t have Shaun Meloy’s number — and you want to text him — we’re going to put his number up on the screen. Totally kidding!
But while you’re texting — know that we also have postcards in the lobby at your campus — not at the Resource Center — but there’s a cart in the lobby with a bunch of postcards that look like this. Grab one — or ten — and write a note to the person who you’re not able to text and mail it to them this week. Call the church office if you need help finding their address.
Alright, how are we to find Jesus in a story like Barak’s?
Here’s one way. We find him by remembering that he is always faithful — even when we are faithless. We looked at the Hall of Faith chapter in the Bible — but know that all of those folks — like Barak and us — they all needed God’s grace in their life in order for them to be faithful. For — without God’s grace — we’re unfaithful people.
But not Jesus — he is always faithful. And his faithfulness is the reason why we experience God’s grace in our lives. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read these words...
2 Timothy 2:11–13 ESV
11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
Jesus remains faithful — for he can’t deny himself — he can’t deny who he is. He is God. He is kind. He is gracious. He is truth. He is just. He is many things — but — never forget that Jesus is faithful to his people. He gives us the least grain of his grace — not based on our merit or our works — but because he’s good and kind and gave his life — in love — for his people. In fact — before his crucifixion — Jesus said this about his death.
John 12:24 ESV
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Just as a seed must give its life — in order for a harvest to be produced — Christ gave his life as a seed — dying on the cross — in order to produce a harvest of life in his people. A people who he sees —not as we are right now — but as who he’s shaping us to be for all eternity.
To quote Richard Sibbes again...
Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are elected unto. — Richard Sibbes
If we were to evaluate Barak’s story based on what we read in the book of Judges, we’d have sold him short of the grain of grace that God had bestowed upon him. And God used that least grain of grace in Barak’s life resulting in him being listed in the Hall of Faith.
And the same is true for all of God’s people. His grace is working in our lives in ways we’re aware of and in ways we’re oblivious to. His grace is working in the lives of the people you’re surrounded by — a family of faith — in ways you’re aware of and in ways none of us may have a clue about. God, give us eyes to see your grace in our lives — give us eyes to see your faithfulness to us. For gracious and faithful is who you are, Jesus. Thank you for the least grain of your grace in our lives. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see your grace in our lives and your faithfulness to us — for gracious and faithful is who you are. Spirit, give us eyes to see your grace in the lives of our brothers and sisters among us and your faithfulness to them — for gracious and faithful is who you are to them. Jesus, what wonderful news it is to know that you are always faithful — even when we’re unfaithful — especially when we’re unfaithful. May your work in Deborah and Jael’s lives inspire us — but may your faithfulness in Barak’s life give us great hope and sweet comfort. For you do not change — and your grace — that we see in his life — is the grace you give to us today. May we rest in, trust in, believe in, and hope in your grace. In your name we pray. Amen.
May you go with eyes that see God’s grace and faithfulness in your life and in the lives of others. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.