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When bad is good and good is bad

Our culture in the United States seems to be turned upside down. It seems as though, in the perception of many, what was once considered good is now perceived as bad. And what was once perceived as bad is now thought of as good.

There was a time when, if someone was doing something immoral, we might have said it was bad. If someone was living with someone of the opposite sex and they weren’t married, it was said to be bad. But if a couple was married, that was good. Today, however, that has been turned upside down. If you think marriage is only between a man and a woman, that is bad – that is narrow. Everything has been turned around.

But here is what God says about such a mindset: “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever” (Isaiah 5:20–21 NLT).

God was saying, “I will define what good is, and if you call bad what I say is good, then you are wrong.”

I bring this up because in the Old Testament book of Judges, everything was upside down, much like it is now. In fact, Judges 17 shows us how and why that happened: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (verse 16). In other words, everyone was doing their own thing. One person might say, “Hey, your truth isn’t my truth. I live by my value system. You can live by your value system, unless of course, it encroaches on my value system.” Everyone had their own truth.

So God raised up judges to provide leadership for the people. These judges were not the kind of judges we would see in a courtroom today. These judges were like the officers of the law in the Wild West. They were like lawmen. A judge would be a warrior. A judge would enforce things, not give rulings. So God raised up judges in Israel.

Preceding the book of Judges in the Old Testament is the book of Joshua, which began with Joshua’s emerging as a leader (a great one) after Moses’ death. But as Judges begins, things have gone downhill. While Joshua is a book about conquest, Judges is primarily a book about defeat. Joshua is a book of faith, while Judges is a book of unbelief and disobedience. Joshua is about people uniting around one man to lead them, while Judges is about everyone doing what is right in their own estimation.

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As Judges opens, approximately 200 years have passed since Joshua led the Israelites on their famous march around the walls of Jericho. Israel had conquered many of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, including the Amorites, the Hittites, the Ammonites and the Jebusites. But they didn’t finish the job. And that was a problem. They did not drive all the Canaanites from the land, and they lived to regret it.

It is not unlike having a tree that has overtaken a yard. When the time comes to remove it, it can’t be simply cut down. The stump has to be pulled out as well. Otherwise, the tree will grow back. And it might even grow back stronger the next time and cause more trouble.

In the same way, sin needs to be rooted out in our lives. If we compromise a little here and a little there, eventually little things will turn into big things. It is like buying those cute little bunnies at Easter. They are so adorable. But those bunnies turn into full-grown rabbits. And little chicks turn into chickens. That is how sin can work in our lives. Little things turn into big things. Little problems turn into big problems.

That is what happened to Israel. Two hundred years after Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the tables were turned. Instead of Israel’s overtaking their enemies, their enemies were overtaking them. And in the sixth chapter of Judges, we find the Israelites living under the power of a group known as the Midianites. This was a result of God’s disciplining them. Why? Because they had disobeyed him. So we are told that God turned them over to the Midianites as punishment for their sin.

Can God ever use a nonbelieving nation to overtake a believing nation as a form of punishment? The answer is yes. That should stand as a warning to our country if we continue to thumb our nose at God, continue to break his laws and continue to go out of our way to remove him in every way. We should never think that we could not be overtaken by another nation, even a godless nation.

We need to do what Old Testament Israel forgot to do: turn to God. And the good news is that even when we have made mistakes, God can intervene and bring redemption. Even when we have messed up, God doesn’t say, “That is your problem. You made your bed. Now sleep in it.”

God can bring good despite the bad. And the Bible says that God “will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).

Sometimes you will find yourself in life circumstances where the only way out is God. Actually, that is not so horrible. In fact, it is kind of glorious, and I will tell you why: God always comes through. And when he comes through, you will say, “I exhausted all of my resources. I tried everything I could try. There is no other way this could have happened except for God.” That is what God wants to hear. Do you feel overwhelmed by your odds right now? Call on God.

There is no way we can impact our upside-down culture without God’s help. We need to look to God and do God’s work in God’s way.