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Parable of the Trees

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Parable of the Trees
Judges 9:8–15 NRSV
8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ 9 The olive tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ 10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 11 But the fig tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ 12 Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?’ 14 So all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
Here is the first parable in the Bible, and it is about America in these last days. This passage shows us 3 steps in the decline of a nation.
1. The apostasy of an unthankful people.
God had given Gideon a great victory w/ just 300 men, trumpets and torches and clay pitchers. You'd think Israel would be so grateful that they would never again turn against God.
The latter is a god of fertility--they were worshipping sex. Like we do in America today.
Judges 8:33–34 NRSV
33 As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals, making Baal-berith their god. 34 The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side;
34 And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side:
What a sad verse. And it is as much about America as about Israel.
God literally GAVE America the victory in the Revolutionary War, as well as in WWII. There's so much that almost went wrong. You don't know how close we came to speaking German! Or being reclaimed by England.
And how do we thank God? By kicking Him out of virtually all public forums.
ill.--5 years after establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1647 the Puritans started the first public school system in America. They had 3 requirements:
· One qualified teacher for every 50 households.
· One school in every town of more than 100 families.
· The Bible must be used as the center of the curriculum.
That was the first public school system supported by tax dollars in America. They asserted, "It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures..."
88 of the first 100 colleges organized in America were founded in order to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. And all but 1 prior to the Revolutionary War was established by the church. Places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and many others were founded primarily to train ministers and to evangelize the eastern seaboard.
The first building ever erected on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania was put there to accommodate the crowds coming to the hear the preaching of Evangelist George Whitfield. His statue stands outside of it today.
We have a Godly Christian heritage and I could go on and on with story after story, but the main point is that we see that we have reacted just like Israel did...God has given us victory and been on our side but we turn on Him. We are blatantly immoral and apostate.
No wonder the apostasy permeates our government...because it permeates virtually every mainline denomination today!
Example: The Re-imagining God conference of 1993.
In Minneapolis-St. Paul 2,200 people from 49 states, representing most mainline denominations got together. 1/3rd of the attendees were clergy.
[remember, we're talking about apostasy, like when Israel would turn from God to other gods.]
Here's how Christianity Today reported it,
"The central task of conference participants was to re imagine God. There was little room for the triune God of Christianity. One pastor drew whoops and applause when she noted that 'we have done nothing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.' Another scoffed at the idea of Christ's atonement saying, 'I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff like that.' 'We just need to listen to the god within us.'"
The deity of the conference was 'Sophia'. She is the suppressed part of the Biblical tradition and the female face of the human psyche. They prayed to her, naming her as our maker, creator god, mother, and guide.
They talked about how Sophia is god in all of us, deep in our hearts. The Christianity Today article then said, "Whether they realized it or not, the conference participants were worshiping themselves."
These people may have been on the fringe of their denominations, but it points out very clearly the major doctrinal apostasy going on in America today which never would have been tolerated in early Christian America. Sure, you can have a cult and go your own way religiously, but not if you distort and twist the truth of our God!
is about America. We have gone from Theology to Me-ology, man centered religion.
The goal of modern religion is to feel good about yourself. We've moved from convictions to opinions.
It was once said, "America is great because America is Godly...and when America ceases to be Godly, she will cease to be great!"
To whom much is given, much is required. No nation has been given a Godly start like America, and so God holds us to a higher standard.
When will we wake up? The liberal left is eating away at our Christian heritage one bite at a time, while we just keep our head down at the table, allowing it to go on on our watch.
We've been brainwashed into thinking there really is a separation of church and state. And we allow them to silence us and push us into a corner.
I'm proud that many of us are today speaking up.
ill.--a valedictorian a few years ago was told he couldn't mention God in his speech, so he got up and began to sneeze, over and again, after each of which the whole student body would say, "God bless you!"
That's what we need, for the people to rise up and take America back!
The late Jack Kemp said, "When gradeschoolers are encouraged to learn and read about condoms but forbidden to read the 10 Commandments on the wall something is vitally wrong with education in America. This is a double standard that undermines all standards. Our children need to learn less about the mechanics of sex and more about the meaning of character. When we accept the disintegration of religious freedom we compromise the means of our deliverance. Today while two or three are gathered together in His name there are also is the ACLU in their midst. We believe in a free church and a free state. But that means freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. We as a nation were conceived in faith, founded in faith, and prospered in faith." Well said!
4 effects of apostasy on American culture:
· Has normalized that which is abnormal. Sex before marriage used to be subnormal, but today it is normal. Look at entertainment, and look at people in your life. It is so rare to find someone who does it God's way.
· Has desensitized us to that which should shock us. We've forgotten how to blush. Nothing embarrasses us anymore. Show me humor that isn't filthy. Show me advertising that you can show your kids. Show me a news report that doesn't lead your kids to questions you aren't ready to talk about with them yet. Madonna kisses Britney and so Janet Jackson has to expose herself during the Superbowl, and somebody else has to do something more wonder America is falling...our society emulates this crowd, and not only is no longer shocked by it, but thirsty for more! We're desensitized. We allow profanity in our houses thru TV and music, and many Christians speak it...they don't even realize it many times!
Has legitimized that would should be llegitimate. Homosexuality has gone from being a sin to being a sickness to being socially accepted. And if you don't agree you just don't get it.
· Has stigmatized anything good and Godly. If we don't agree with the secular progressive movement today, a stigma is placed upon us. Just try recommending monogamy in marriage or virginity in young people and you'll be laughed to scorn. And when I preach the truth I'm immediately tagged as part of the radical religious right, and I have the hate mail to prove it. By the way, I wear their label proudly. And I'm glad to post this on the internet. Love me or hate me, you just can't ignore me! Isaiah said woe unto them who call good evil and evil good. This world is changing but our God doesn't change, nor does His Word change, and nor should we!
Historically, God has given America victory, but we turn our backs on Him.
1. The Apostasy of an unthankful people.
2. The Arrogance of an ungodly leader.
Chapter 9:1-4 tells us about Abimelech. To sum it up, he says, "Should we have many leaders or just one?" He is nominating himself, knowing they will go along with it. He takes power from the people and places it all on himself. Sound familiar?
v. 5 America used to be built on blood of heroes.
v. 6 That pillar was the place where God made His covenant with Abraham...a holy place! Abimelech is trying to have it both ways, and has his inauguration at a holy site, making a farce of the God he rejected in practice.
Aren't you tired of seeing our leaders who stand for such moral decadence walking out of their photo op churches holding their Bibles? They say they are Christians but their life says otherwise
Judges 9:1–6 NRSV
1 Now Abimelech son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s kinsfolk and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, 2 “Say in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3 So his mother’s kinsfolk spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 They gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the temple of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. 5 He went to his father’s house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone; but Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal, survived, for he hid himself. 6 Then all the lords of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.
God dedicated 57 verses to a wicked judge who ruled as king in Israel for about 3 years. Why would He do that? Is it possible the story of this evil man has something to us about how we should think as Christians?
In Clay County, Kentucky there was a judge named R. Cletus Maricle. He was one of the rare judges I could find online who had been permanently disbarred.
OPEN: In Clay County, Kentucky there was a judge named R. Cletus Maricle. He was one of the rare judges I could find online who had been permanently disbarred.
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OPEN: In Clay County, Kentucky there was a judge named R. Cletus Maricle. He was one of the rare judges I could find online who had been permanently disbarred.
You might ask: “Jeff, why was he disbarred?”
R. Cletus Maricle was disbarred because he and 7 other Kentucky officials were found guilty of voter fraud. Basically, they bought votes for candidates that were from their party. In the election years of 2002, 2004 and 2006, the group spent about $400,000 to bribe 8,000 voters to vote for their candidates.
And of course… Cletus (love that name) was disbarred.
You could say Judge R. Cletus Maricle was a BAD judge.
And he got disbarred.
By contrast, in our story today we find a man named Abimelech was also a BAD judge.
But if you read the rest of the 9th chapter of Judges you’d find that he didn't get disbarred.
He died.
Somebody killed him!
Now technically Abimelech wasn't really even a judge to begin with. A Biblical judge was one who was appointed by God to protect Israel from her enemies.
But God had NOT appointed Abimelech to do anything. And Abimelech wasn't into protecting anybody’s interests but his own. All Abimelech wanted power and prestige for himself.
So he was a bad judge.
Someone once even called him the “Anti-Judge” (Robert Leroe)
As I was preparing the sermon today, I got to wondering why Abimelech would want to seize power to begin with? Well, I believe he wanted the power because he felt ENTITLED to it. I suspect he believed he was destined to be the ruler of Israel. And I think the person who put that thought in his mind was his momma.
tells us that “Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.”
In the society of that day, concubines were second class citizens. They weren't really REAL wives, and their children weren't really REAL sons and daughters of the father.
The Bible doesn't excuse that… it simply tells you what happened here.
So Abimelech wasn't really a REAL son to Gideon.
But – for whatever reason - Gideon named him Abimelech, which means “My father is king.”
I personally think Abimelech’s mother seized on that name because she wanted Abimelech to know that not only was Gideon (one of the greatest judges of Israel) his father… but that his daddy was a King. And thus Abimelech was born to greatness.
There’s only one problem with that notion: it wasn't true.
Gideon WAS Abimelech’s daddy… but he’d never been a king.
tells us: “the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.
Judges 8:22–23 NRSV
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”
Gideon said to them, “I will NOT rule over you, and MY SON will NOT rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.”
So, I believe that Abimelech’s mother planted a lie in her son’s mind. A lie that his daddy was a King, when that wasn't true at all. But from her lie came the belief that he (in turn) was destined to be King of Israel. He was of “royal blood”. And I suspect he believed in that so strongly he was willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill his destiny.
1. First he enlisted people to his cause.
Judges 9:1–3 NRSV
1 Now Abimelech son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s kinsfolk and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, 2 “Say in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” 3 So his mother’s kinsfolk spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”
When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother."
2. Then he lined up with whoever he could get to come to side. He essentially bought votes.
Judges 9:4 NRSV
4 They gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the temple of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him.
3. And then, to get rid of any competition he might have to being king, he executed almost every one of his 70 brothers (one brother, Jotham, escaped)
4. Then he engaged in a series of power struggles that ended up in his being killed
That’s essentially the whole story. And the question that came to my mind as I prepared to preach this sermon was: why on earth would God tell us this story?
Abimelech wasn't a hero, he wasn't a man of faith.
He was a loser. A thug. A tyrant. A murderer. God could easily have skipped over this story… and I would never have missed it. It doesn't add anything to the story line in Judges as far I’m concerned.
And yet, God gave this guy an entire chapter in Judges.
57 verses were completely dedicated to this evil man.
Why would God do that?
It was . And it declared that
Romans 15:4 NRSV
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
So, what does God want to teach us here?
Well, a couple things occurred to me.
1st – God wants to teach us that there are evil people out there.
The Bible is very clear that there are nasty folks out there who do nasty things. Many of us grew up in a Disneyland kind of world where everything was sweetness and light. But as we grew older, we realized that there are people out there who would hurt us and our families. Those are the Abimelechs of our times.
And there have been men like Abimelech in just about every age of history.
There have been power hungry people in every generation who have hurt others because they wanted to dominate and control the world around them.
And often, when these wicked people rise to the top, they are often exactly what a culture deserves.
Notice what the Bible tells us just a few verses before it introduces this evil man:
Judges 8:33–35 NIV
33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.
The story in Judges tells us of how God used Gideon to save Israel from the hands of the Midianites. But no sooner did Gideon die than the people forget all about Gideon and what he’d done for them. He becomes ancient history. As far as Israel was concerned, there were more important things to focus on in their lives than a has-been like him.
And as soon as they forgot Gideon… they forgot all about God as well. They went back to worshiping the pagan gods that got them into trouble to begin with.
Baal was a particularly evil god that required human sacrifice. And since he was also the god of fertility there was a lot of sexual stuff going on in his worship.
So as Israel bowed before this pagan god, they were just asking to get punished by God for their idolatry and perversion.
And Abimelech - and what he did - was exactly the kind of leader the nation deserved.
Every other punishment God brought on Israel during the days of the judges involved an outside nation or people who would come in and make their lives miserable. But Abimelech was the first one of their number – the first and only Israelite – that God used to punish His people when they went astray.
Because he was exactly what they deserved.
And they even voted for him!!!
They followed him, and they subsidized his evil with their evil.
They used the money from the Temple of Baal-Berith to pay him to lead them. And those 70 shekels of silver were what he used to pay evil men who helped to kill his 70 brothers.
We live in a great nation where we've been permitted the privilege of electing our officials, and that has been a privilege our people have enjoyed for a couple hundred years. But, something has always puzzled me. And that is the tendency of Christians, of regular church goers, to vote for some of the most wicked of people down through our history.
And they often vote for such folks because those people are share their particular party affiliation.
• Richard Nixon said “I’m not a crook”. But he was. He was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. And yet, if he were alive today, there would be people who would STILL vote for him for president. And do you know why? (wait for a response)
Because he was of the party they've always voted for. They’re like the people of Shechem who voted for Abimelech because “he is our brother”. He was part of their group, therefore they embraced his evil.
• LBJ was a wicked man who was an enemy of the church (because the church opposed him). He engineered legislation that essentially attempted to neuter the influence of the churches on national politics because of his hatred for them. And yet there are Christians who remember him and would STILL vote for him for President. And you know why?
Because he was of the party they've always voted for. He was part of their political party, and therefore they’d continue to embrace his evil.
Down through the years Christians have voted for crooks, and thieves and sexually immoral leaders. They've voted for politicians who've embraced abortion, homosexuality, and all forms of sexually impurity. And they've voted for men and women who were enemies of God.
And the reason they voted for them was because they were part of the party they've ALWAYS voted for.
That ought to never happen. That ought NEVER to be done.
We are a holy people. We've been bought with a price. And for any believer in Christ to go to the ballot box and leave God outside is an abomination.
If you’re not voting for the principles of God, you might as well be voting for Abimelech, because that’s who you’ll ultimately end up with. A nation gets the leaders it deserves. And a nation who leaves God out of their politics will end up on the wrong side of God’s wrath.
As William Penn said “If we are not willing to be governed by God, we shall be ruled by tyrants”
Have you ever heard someone say:
“Well let’s just vote all the bums out and that will fix the problem?”
That’s got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
If you vote the bums out, what do you end up with?
That’s right – you get a whole new set of bums!
And the bums are often there because God wants to get our attention. And they’re often there because God’s angry, and he's giving us what we deserved. Thus, you can vote in whatever bums you want and the problem will still exist. Because the real problem has been our nation’s endorsement of immorality. And the real problem is we keep voting for politicians that embrace that immorality.
Then, what’s the solution?
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We err if we believe we can solve our political issues at the ballot box. Politics will always be a nasty business. And there are politicians will often make decisions that would break your heart and turn your stomach. But our hope is in God. It’s not in the ballot box, but at the edge of our beds as we pray.
So, first, there are evil people out there. And often they are what a nation deserves.
The 2nd lesson I see here is this:
Wherever there’s power to be had there will be people who will want to have that power. It doesn't matter if the power is in politics, or business, or marriage, or in the church. There will always be people who will seek to dominate and control.
And the thirst for power is the oddest thing. It makes people behave in some really bizarre ways.
ILLUS: In June 1974, Richard Nixon’s he planned a trip to Russia and Italy. His two top aides, Alexander Haig and Ron Ziegler both were struggling for power in his administration, and their rivalry got so intense that each of them had a team that actually measured, down to the inch, how far their beds were from President Nixon’s!
(Bruce Ball, “#1 And Proud Of It”)
Does that sound normal to you? Does that sound sane?
Of course not. That’s about as bizarre and petty as it gets.
And yet folks who are into power will do stuff that normal folks wouldn't consider.
But you know that’s the kind of thing I’d expect from pagans.
They don’t love God. They don’t have God in charge of their lives.
And if God’s not in charge in my life, who is?
It’s the most logical thing in the world for folks who are pagans to seek to be the god in their lives. Somebody has to be in charge, so it may as well be them. Thus, pagans would be the most likely to seek to manipulate and dominate and to rule over others.
That’s what you’d expect from Pagans.
That wouldn't happen in the church would it?
(Pause) Yeah it would!
Consider these words from Paul to the churches in Galatia. I’m going to leave some of his words out so I can focus on stuff that applies here. He writes:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy….” ESV
Galatians 5:19–21 ESV
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are the behaviors of those who seek to control and manipulate and dominate. But just in case you might be tempted to think that Paul was just making a list, he then says this:
“I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” ESV
He’s warned the Galatians about this because they were doing just that. They were backbiting, into rivalries and dissensions and divisions etc. And it was endangering their very salvation!
And Jesus warned us about this as well.
“Jesus called (His disciples) together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Now, my point is this:
The Spirit of Abimelech can happen anywhere. It can happen in politics, the business world, in marriages and it can even happen in… the church. Wherever there’s power to be struggled over… people struggle to gain that power for themselves.
They do this because they believe that power is important. And they even have a proverb they use to justify their mindset. They believe that “God helps those who help themselves.”
Now where do is that found in Scripture do you suppose?
It isn't.
It’s not in the Bible. It’s a pagan proverb.
God doesn't help those who help themselves.
God helps those who listen to Him and obey Him and trust Him.
Jesus said: You want to be GREAT in this world? Then you need to learn to be the best servant you can be. And the only way you can do that is if you learn to TRUST God. You cannot be a good servant if you don’t believe God will have your back. If you don’t believe God will be there for you, you will always believe you need the control in order to protect yourself.
But Jesus said – if you want to be great, you need to be the servant.
That’s what made Gideon such a good judge.
He didn't want power… he just wanted to be a good servant of Israel.
Remember what he said when Israel offered him the throne?
“I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.”
Gideon had learned to trust God.
And because he trusted God he learned to give Him the glory.
And because he gave God the glory Gideon became one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament.
The GLORY belongs to God and therefore the POWER belongs to God.
The struggle for power all boils down to who gets the glory
If I want the glory… then I’m gonna want the power.
Isaiah 42:8 NRSV
8 I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.
Someone wrote a poem about this:
“Have you been called to serve where others tried and failed?
But with God's help and strength YOUR efforts have prevailed?
Touch not the glory.
Has God appointed you to some great, noble cause?
Or put you where you hear the sound of men's applause?
Touch not the glory.
Have you some special gift? Some riches you can share?
Or have you learned the art of intercessory prayer?
Touch not the glory.
A watching world still waits to see what can be done,
Through one who touches not that which is God's alone...
Touch not the glory.”
(Words by Erma Davison from the song, “Touch Not The Glory,” (C) 1993 Ron and Patricia Owens.)
Only when we learn that the power and glory and the honor belong solely to our God will we enjoy the blessings that come from being His children. But you can’t truly know those blessings until you belong to Him.
1. The Apostasy of an unthankful people.
2. The Arrogance of an ungodly leader.
3. The Apathy of an uncommitted people.
Here's the parable of the trees in a nutshell: Each of the trees said "No, I don't want to lead, let someone else." So the people turned to the bramble bush for leadership and the bush agreed, and said, "You can rest under my shade." The irony? It has no shade!
So when all the other trees forsook the call of duty, the people settled for what they got.
Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
The theme of Judges is that God would rather forgive than judge. But for that to happen Christians will need to rise up from their apathy, and their prayers be heard, their voices be heard, and their votes be heard.
It's still possible to save America, and bring her back to God!
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