Tag Archives: Perseverance of the Saints

Finishing Well

 

Judges 6:11-8:35 introduces us to a man with whom most followers of Christ are or at least should be familiar.  Gideon is perhaps best known for his call from God to lead Israel against the Midianites, a call which he requested God to validate by means of a sign, a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground and then subsequently a second sign, a dry fleece surrounded by wet ground.  This sign was to be evidence that God would be with him in the battle against the Midianites.

Prior to this, and the ensuing battle, God tested Gideon by requiring him to destroy the idols and altars of his family.  His obedience, resulting in a name change to Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend against him” nearly cost him his life.  However, it is out of this test, that of destroying the idols closest to him, that God called him to lead Israel out of the bondage of the Midianites.

This episode, following the sign of the fleece, is accompanied by the well-known test of Gideon’s army, those who lap water versus those who kneel to drink, a test that narrowed down his army from 10,000 to 300 soldiers (The original size was 22,000 soldiers, which itself was narrowed down to those who were not fearful).  In God’s narrowing of the army from 22,000 to 10,000, we are given an explanation why this was necessary, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.”  This statement provides us with a universal principle which warns us against relying on our own strength, rather than upon God.

It might not be a large army, it might not even be physical strength, but we are prone to self-reliance which in turn robs glory from God and causes us to boast in our own accomplishments rather than in how God has worked.   In the case of Gideon, God was not satisfied with merely cutting the army numerically in half, but taking it to such drastically low numbers that it would be humanly impossible to explain the victory.

Finally, Gideon and his small band of 300 soldiers embarked on their famous military campaign against the Midianites where the army gathered with trumpets and torches

16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Judges 7:16-18

Now, perhaps in the statement that Gideon instructed the army to yell out, “…and for Gideon” we’ve got a small indication of a problem.  Nevertheless, when Gideon and his army blew the trumpets and smashed the torch jars, God confused the Midianite army such that they began fighting against each other in the chaos.  After this battle, Gideon and his men pursued the kings of Midian, though exhausted, captured them when again their army (15,000) was thrown into a panic.  Judges 8:10 records for us that in all 120,000 soldiers were killed due to Gideon and his 300 men.  Surely such a victory is due solely to the sovereignty of God.

With all of this in mind, the legend of Gideon is a well-known and rehearsed story and there are many more details left out of this brief overview that we could’ve discussed.  However, the last chapter in Gideon’s life is lesser known.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it included in any discussion of Gideon nor have I really paid much attention to it until reading it for myself.  The passage is below

22Then 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.” 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.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

Despite the calling from God, the signs from God, the victories from God, and the favor of God on Gideon among the people of Israel, Gideon did not finish well.  One would be hard pressed to determine what exactly the failure of Gideon was, perhaps it was pride as in the instructions to shout his name.  Maybe it was the taste of success or simply suppressed but not fully eradicated idolatry that found opportunity to surface.  Nevertheless Gideon desired more than what God had given him.  He was not content to have rule over the people, but wanted to preside as priest.  To lead a body politically is one thing, to lead a body spiritually is an entirely different matter altogether, one that had not been granted to Gideon, particularly as it was exclusively given to the tribe of Levi.  As a result, he caused not only himself to fall into idolatry and false worship, but he led all of Israel to whore into idolatry as well.  The simple test of faith that he had initially passed in tearing down the personal idols of his family became a snare and a downfall for himself and Israel.  it was a failure to destroy the idols closest to him.

This final chapter of Gideon’s life should cause us to reflect on our lives, particularly as we see God’s sovereign grace working in and through us, calling, gifting, perhaps even granting various victories.  In this life we are called to persevere and to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

If this were all we had to remember of Gideon, perhaps it would be another in a long line of men and women who did not finish well.  Yet for Gideon, there was an additional word to be said, that from Hebrews 11 and the so-called “Hall of faith”.

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” Hebrews 11:32

Though his mention is brief, nevertheless, the fact that he is hailed by God alongside other men and women who were wrought with failures, yet extolled for their faithfulness should give us encouragement and hope.  This chapter of epitaphs does not mention the failures of God’s people, but rather their faithfulness as a mark of perseverance.

Narratives like Gideon’s serve as patterns and examples, both for the positives and negatives.  Our lives, though certainly possessive of failures, should be marked with the constancy of faithfulness and lifelong perseverance to avoid tapering away from God in our final days.  Surely, we should long for the day when God says well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.  Until then, let us persevere and strive to finish well.

 

The Finality of Apostasy

 

Having now worked meticulously through the experiential descriptions from the warning passage in Hebrews 6, we turn our attention to the consequence which began with the introduction, “For it is impossible” back in verse 4. Before we reach the conclusion of that statement we must address the last descriptor in this warning, “and have fallen away.”

The word for fallen away, parapipto, is used only here in the New Testament and conveys the idea of slipping away, synonymous with what we would term apostasy. Though unique in its use, it is similar in thought to Heb. 2:1, “Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Likewise, we read of a similar warning of apostasy in 3:12, “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God”. Additionally, this general sentiment is conveyed in Heb. 3:17; 4:1; Heb. 4:6; Heb. 4:11; Heb. 10:28; Heb. 12:1. Those similarities mentioned, it may also be noted that falling or drifting away is the opposite of holding fast, as in Heb. 3:1 “hold fast our original confidence firm to the end”; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23. Those who have shared in all the experiences discussed in verses 4-6 may now add the description, “and have fallen away” to their resume. As a side note, the action being described here is not conditional, as in the faulty NIV translation that inserts “if” before falling away. Instead it is a statement of fact emphatically sealed with the word “impossible”, which shows up again with emphasis in 6:18, “it is impossible for God to lie.”

With this in mind, we move to the concluding statement of the warning, “for it is impossible…to renew them again to repentance”. If one takes the interpretation that has been argued against, namely that the loss of salvation is in view here, then you must conclude that if it is lost, it can never be regained. It is apostasy unto the end. To be clear, backsliding is not in view here. Though one may offer a convincing argument that hardening from sin, sluggishness, dull of hearing, may well be synonyms for backsliding and certainly place one on the path for potential apostasy, the warning here is more ultimate. It is a total renunciation of the person and work of Christ after having been exposed to the truths regarding Him, externally receiving the blessings of association with the New Covenant community, and then making a complete and outright rejection in its entirety.  It certainly does not have to be expressed verbally, though naturally out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

This rejection is not akin to Peter’s denial of Christ on 3 separate occasions (because he returned!), but finds its human parallel in Judas. Though their situation may in some ways be similar, Judas had a worldly sorrow for his actions, as did Esau in Heb. 12:17, but his repentance was not genuine. If Judas’ repentance had been genuine, he would not have committed suicide, but would have rejoined the disciples for the cause of Christ. The selfishness of his actions following on the heels of his betrayal indicates that his was an apostasy unto the end of his life (1 John 5:16; see also John 17:12). It has been said of those who commit this apostasy that it would have been better if they were never born (Matt. 26:24). They are the hidden reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars of Jude 12-13. Their rejection of Christ is proof that they were never children of God, but were children of the devil all along.

At this point it is fair to ask if it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, doesn’t that mean that they were originally in a state of repentance, i.e. saved. Again we can see that importing one’s own meaning of terms and theological concepts into a passage will inevitably lead to a wrong conclusion. The term “again” is also used in the following verse in reference to crucifying Christ “again”, yet that is no more likely to actually happen than it is for the apostate to have a genuine repentance “again”.

Why would it be impossible to renew them again to repentance? Because they have rejected the only means and object toward which repentance is due such that there remains no other option. If genuine Spirit-led repentance is God-ward and one rejects God, to whom shall repentance be made? To use our example of Esau again from Heb. 12:17, he was not given opportunity to repent, though he sought it with tears. His tears were not the hallmark of genuine repentance; if they had been then he would’ve found repentance. Similarly, Israel as a nation slid into apostasy, yet we see the repeated attempts to repent and return to the Lord. These attempts were not genuine as we read in Deuteronomy 1:45, “And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you.” (Note again the Wilderness Generation)

As a side note, it is simply a misapplication of the passage to take the experiences mentioned here and apply it to our own knowledge of those who reject Christ and assume that theirs is a similar apostasy of finality. Not only is that a misapplication of the passage, but it strays from the passages intended meaning. It is not meant to be taken as a measuring stick of faithfulness, but as a warning to be personally heeded by all those who hear it. Once again, let us be reminded of the case of Peter and Judas, both were guilty of experiencing the blessing and association of our Lord, yet one returned and one didn’t. How faulty and self-righteous would it have been to have taken the warning from Hebrews 6 and applied it to Peter assuming that it would be impossible to renew him again to repentance. Peter was a living example of one who heeded the warning of Christ, recognized himself drifting away, and found repentance in the arms of a waiting Savior (Matt. 26:75; Luke 22:32).

What is your case dear reader? Is your life marked by open rejection of Christ, having presumed to walk with Him for so long? Perhaps you find your way on the road called Backslidden leading to the town of Apostasy. Heed the warnings of Hebrews and elsewhere in Scripture and find true repentance in the arms of a loving Father before it is too late and yours is an apostasy unto finality.

Concluding the thought of this passage we read of the egregious nature of those apostates in view, namely “crucifying again the Son of God.” Having rejected the person and work of Christ, they no longer have a claim to Christ’s death for them. Instead of the gloriousness of the cross in the provision of redemption from sin, the apostate denigrates the cross as a device of torture and punishment for blasphemy and yells out with the crowd, “Crucifying Him!” What once had been a shallow claim of “I am crucified with Christ” has turned to having “neither part nor lot in this matter”. Public renunciation of faith in Christ, whether by attitudes, actions, or words, makes a mockery of the Lord and His substitutionary sacrifice (Matt. 27:39-44). As we will see in Heb. 10:29 this rejection is a “profaning the blood of the covenant” and is in fact the unpardonable sin, “For it is impossible…to restore them again to repentance.”