The Warning Angel
August 30th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE WARNING ANGEL
Dr. W.A. Criswell
8-30-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on the television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now the title of the message is The Warning Angel, The Warning Angel. It is an exposition of the second chapter of the Book of Judges. When in this series of verses you come to number 11, from verse 11 to verse 23 in the second chapter of Judges, you have the theme of the Book presented. If I were to name the Book of Judges by something else I would call it The Acts of the Old Testament. Here on these pages is delineated the four hundred years of Israel’s history, and in the Book are described seven declensions and seven tremendous revivals. And the passage from verse 11 through verse 23 is a summation of the whole story of those four hundred years. It is like the overture to an oratorio, or to an opera, where the theme songs are all presented in that overture. That is what we have here in this summation.
Now in the verses above, starting at verse 7, the Scriptures say that the Lord was King of the people. "And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua" [Judges 2:7]. That whole generation who had been by the side of God’s warrior Joshua served the Lord. They were men who had seen the great works of the Lord. Then "Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, God’s warrior, died. And they buried him in his inheritance in Ephraim" [Judges 2:8-9]. Then all that generation that outlived Joshua, but who had known the warrior prince, that generation died. And while Joshua lived and while the elders who outlived Joshua lived, the people served the Lord.
Then comes one of the sorriest sentences to be found in human expression, "And after Joshua died, and after the elders who outlived Joshua died, there arose another generation after them, who knew not the Lord, and they had not seen the mighty works that God had done for Israel [Judges 2:10]. And the children of Israel forsook the God of their fathers [Judges 2:12], the God that delivered them out of the land of Egypt, and they followed other gods, namely the gods of the people that were round about. They bowed down themselves unto them and worshiped them." What a sorry come to pass. As long as Joshua lived, as long as the elders who knew Joshua lived, the people served God [Joshua 2:7]. But when Joshua died, and when the elders died, it was like the withdrawing of a magnet and the iron filings tumbled, confused and inert to the ground. So these people, when Joshua died and the elders died, they forgot about God, they forsook the Lord, and they began to follow the gods of the people who were around them [Judges 2:11-12].
You can’t live on tradition. You can’t find courage for yourself in just hearing of the experiences of somebody else. You have to know God for you. It has to be a personal faith in your heart if it means anything at all. You have to have an experience with the Lord. These people forgot Him. They had never seen His mighty works. It was just words and sounds to them. It was a dull page in history to them. It was something yesterday, and they were very amenable to forgetting it. So the sentence here, "And there arose another generation who did not know the Lord [Judges 2:10], and they forsook their God, the One that had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, and they followed the gods of the people who were around them" [Judges 2:12-13]. What a sorry come to pass.
That generation and others like them are the weights that time must bear. They are the burdens that the ages must carry. History dies with them. They forgot the God of their fathers. They forgot Abraham. They forgot Israel, Jacob. They forgot Moses. They forgot Joshua. They forgot the whole gamut, declension of God’s mercy and His grace, and they went a whoring after the gods of the people who were around them. Real religion is historically conditioned. It happens in time and in history. Real religion is factual. It happened at a certain place, at a certain hour, in a certain day, on a certain day, to a certain named people. It is historically relevant. And when we forget our history we are unfit for any tomorrow. Any people that forgets its history is unworthy of any future.
These forgot their father, and forgot what God had done, and they forsook the Lord – no wonder, when you forget the God who moved in history and when you forget your fathers, no wonder you fall into skepticism and rejection and unbelief. That’s what’s happened to a large segment of the generation that is growing up now. They are, they say, anti-establishment. They are anti-what we’ve done in days past. They are anti-yesterday. They are anti-what our forefathers were and what our forefathers have bequeathed to us. So they are rioters and arsonists and incendiaries. They are demonstrators. They are hippies. They are filthy. They are dirty. They are a sorry generation!
Any generation that forgets its past and persuades itself that life has just begun, it is just started, there’s not any precedence. There’s not any precedence. There’s not any yesterday. It’s just now. Any generation that persuades itself like that has no other alternative to but to give itself to gross sensuality. They live in the moment, and their whole definition of life is in terms of appetite, satiation of all of the animal impulses to which a fallen depraved human nature is heir to. One of the noblest things that any generation can ever do is to remember that the blessings of this hour have come to us from men who under God were used to frame our today.
I cannot tell you the number of times that people will ask me, preachers will ask me, members of the church will ask me, visitors will ask me, "You know every year you prepare a message on the great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, and you deliver it on the Sunday closest to his, to the anniversary of his death. That’s an unusual thing; never heard of anybody doing that. Why do you do that?" Well, the answer is severalfold. One could be, he was the greatest man of God and pulpiteer, princely preacher our people has ever produced. That’s one reason. Another reason, he linked himself with the great denominational outreaches of all whatever Christendom means to us who are called Baptists. But did you know ninety-nine parts of a hundred why I do it is that we might remember our past. Like the Book says, "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged" [Isaiah 51:1]. Here’s a man of God who stood behind this sacred pulpit desk for forty-seven years, preached the gospel. Shall we forget it, we? It’s one of the highest honors and privileges of life to look back at what God hath done, what the Lord hath wrought, and we, the children of this following generation, have received from their hands the enrichments that bless and sustain our lives and souls forever.
Ah, what a sorry generation this is. Forget the God of their fathers [Judges 2:12], forget what God had done for Israel, and give themselves to the sensualities and the cheap divinities of the idolaters around them. This generation that’s now coming up, they look upon that Bible as a piece of irrelevant and actually impertinent literature. Yet, every syllable in that Book was written in blood, and the whole body of it is bound by the martyrdom of our forefathers. But this upcoming generation casts it aside. The church, O dear God, what an incomparable heavenly open door God has set before us. We are free to attend worship. The doors are wide open on the Lord’s Day. We can assemble without Gestapo, or police, or surveillance, or repressive hand of the law.
Where did those liberties come from? And where did the glorious church come from? The church was born in the sobs and tears, in the blood, in the sacrifice of the Son of God! We were taken out of the side of our Lord as the bride was taken out of the side of Adam [Genesis 2:21-23; Ephesians 5:30]. And the rich history, through now almost two millennia, of the church comes to us to enlighten and to bless and to sanctify every soul, yet this coming up generation, so much of it dirty and filthy and sorry, looks upon the church as a part of an establishment that must be destroyed.
So the people were gathered, the Book says, near Bethel. All the tribes of Israel were there. We’re not told the occasion of the convocation. It was a rendezvous that pulled together all of the people. And while they were there, [there] suddenly appeared a voice from heaven, a messenger from God, called an angel, or a messenger of the Lord. And the Book says He came up from Gilgal [Judges 2:1]. Immediately my mind goes back to a time when I met that Messenger in that place before. Remember when Joshua, in the fifth chapter of Joshua. remember when the people came across Jordan to possess the Promised Land, and at Gilgal, Joshua evidently had separated himself from the people, the camp, for a way possibly to pray, possibly to ask God for strategy. And while Joshua was away, over toward Jericho there stood a Man with a sword drawn. And Joshua approached Him and said, "Are You for us, or for our adversaries?" And the Angel Messenger from heaven said, "Yea, as captain of the hosts of the Lord am I come. Take off your shoes; the place whereon you stand is holy ground" [Joshua 5:13-15]. And there with God’s Warrior Prince bowed to the ground, the Angel from heaven delivered to Joshua the marching orders for his people.
And as long as Joshua lived, and as long as the elders who knew Joshua lived, God’s people marched under the banner of heaven [Judges 2:7]. But when Joshua died and that generation who knew Joshua died, there was another generation, a sorry one, who did not know God [Judges 2:10], and who forsook the Lord of the fathers [Judges 2:12]. And they went a whoring after the little cheap divinities of the people around them. And they forgot the great mandate from heaven. That Angel Messenger comes to stand before the people, and He says, "Did I not give orders to you at Gilgal? Why have you not carried them out? Did I not say unto you, you were to make no league with the inhabitants of this land, the filthy, indescribably corrupt Canaanites?" [Judges 2:2].
I can’t stand in this pulpit and use the language to describe Canaanitist religion, the unspeakable vile idolatry of Canaanites, how they worshiped. It was licentious and depraved beyond what you could translate into modern literature. "Did I not tell you," said the Angel, "not to make leagues with that abomination? Did I not tell you to cast down those altars? But you have not obeyed My voice, therefore, you will have no victory. Thus," saith the Lord, "I will not drive them out before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you" [Judges 2:3]. When the people heard that Messenger from heaven, they burst into lamentation and weeping [Judges 2:4]. So much so that they called the name of the place Bochim, weeping, Bochim [Judges 2:5].
But after they wept, after they had made sin sacrifices to the Lord, they dried their tears, they hardened their hearts. Bochim is never referred to again. And they went away to compromise their faith and their religion in the orgies and in the whoredoms of the people and the divinities around them. Wouldn’t you have thought that when the Messenger came from God and had warned the people, God’s warning Angel, wouldn’t you have thought there would have been a nationwide repentance, there would’ve been a getting right with God that just moved the very throne of grace in heaven. And after they wept, they dried their tears, they hardened their hearts, and they plunged deeper into the gross orgies and rites of the Canaanite gods all around them [Judges 2:11-13].
Before we begin to say what monsters of ingratitude, what unholy exempliaries, before we say that about these people, we might look around us. These are not idolaters alone who bow down before a graven image. These are idolaters also who give themselves to anything less than God. Taking this pulpit as a center, draw a circumference around this great metropolitan center of Dallas and look at the idolaters who forget God, and who give themselves to the cheap, paltry divinities of the day. They’re worshiping the gods of entertainment, money, social preferment, advancement, sensuality, a thousand other things. And as hideous as is the god of Molech or of Baal, so these offer unto the godless divinities of our day their homes, and their families, and their children, and their own souls and lives. You marvel at the apostasy.
And the Book continues, "And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel" [Judges 2:20]. The very fury of heaven burned against them. The heavens were on fire to scorch them. The horizon was aflame to burn them. And the very earth on which they trod withered them. Ah, the severity of the anger and the judgments of Almighty God. The Lord God is as true to His threats as He is to His promises. No nation yet has ever forsaken and forgotten God and not found an inevitable judgment and retribution, and no individual life including you and me and us ever turns aside from God but that an inevitable judgment awaits us. "And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel." There’s no vapid, effete, maudlin, sentimental theology in this earth that can deny the judgment of God in human history. The judgment on the antediluvians in the days of the flood, the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, the judgment of the people in the wilderness, the judgment that came upon the house of David, the judgment of God upon Judas Iscariot, the whole story of mankind is replete with these judgments of God from heaven, severe, awesome. It was so here.
You know it is a remarkable thing about sin and punishment. They grow from the same stem. Wherever there is one, the other accompanies. Wherever there is sin, punishment is concealed in the flower to which someday it moves toward fruition. Cause and effect, seed and fruit, sowing and harvesting are inexorably welded together. The harvest is in the sowing. The fruit is in the seed. The punishment is in the sin. And another strange thing, it is always alike. When you tolerate evil, the Lord leaves it there, and the evil itself is a form of the retribution of Almighty God. That’s the strangest thing. Why didn’t the Angel come down at Bochim and there annihilate the people? Why didn’t the Lord bare the sword at Bochim and slaughter the people? There was no baring of the sword. There was no judgment from heaven.
The Angel warned and left [Judges 2:1], and the retribution and the judgment was the leaving of the sin to which Israel had given herself. She refused to do away with the altars of the Canaanites, and those altars demanded sacrifices. Israel refused to do away with the unspeakably vile deities of the Canaanites [Judges 2:11-13], and those deities demanded worship. And Israel made leagues with the Canaanites in order, and I haven’t time to speak of it in the chapter before, to use them and to control them. But those Canaanites demanded recognition of the league they’d made. And it wasn’t long until they were worshiping before the gods of the Canaanites. They were bowing down with them. They were laying sacrifices on the altars of the Canaanitist deities. They were there as thorns in their sides, as snares in their way [Judges 2:3].
We’re like that. Whenever evil is tolerated, it has a tendency to grow and to spread and finally overwhelms us. Take the saloon. I can remember when the moral conscience of America said, "We shall destroy forever the open saloon." I can remember that. I can remember my father campaigning and speaking and going down to vote against the open saloon. But we didn’t eradicate the evil. We tolerated it. Great denominations of churches defended it. And whole political organizations espoused it. And did you know the day is coming in the state of Texas, unless there is a turn and a reversal in what many of our prognosticators think, the day is coming when you’re going to have an open saloon, which is another word for liquor by the drink, you’re going to have it in practically every restaurant and practically every snack bar and in practically every place to eat in the state of Texas. You’re going to be drowned in it. And you haven’t seen slaughter yet on the highway, when a man can stop anywhere, and you haven’t seen the introduction of our young people to the evil of drunkenness. That’s God. That’s God. When we refuse, when we refuse to do away with the evil, God leaves it. It isn’t long until it drowns us.
So with our own sensual natures, give yourself to it. Give yourself to it, and you’ll find that temptation on every side and on every hand. And it isn’t long until you’re living like an alley cat, like a dog, having lost moral sensitivity. Oh, the judgments of Almighty God! Our time is gone. Wouldn’t that be a tragic way to leave a message? The artist says, "If you paint a picture of a forest, it is artistically wrong not to paint a way out of it." Put a road in it. It’s not artistically right, the great artists say, to paint a picture of a forest and it’s intractable. There’s no way, there’s no turn, there’s no hope. It’s always wrong if a preacher preaches a sermon and all he’s doing is pointing out the evil and delivering the judgments of God. For there’s always a road out. Look at them. Look at the text.
"Nevertheless the Lord, nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by the reason of those that oppressed them and afflicted them" [Judges 2:18]. When Nineveh turns, God turns. When Nineveh repents, God repents. When Nineveh changes, God changes [Jonah 3:4-10]. When Saul of Tarsus, who had wasted the church, asked for forgiveness, God not only forgave him but made him into an apostle Paul [Acts 9:15]. There is always the possibility of a new beginning again. The thief enters Paradise [Luke 23:43]. Simon Peter stands at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-42], he who had denied the Lord [Matthew 26:69-75], and is God’s flaming emissary and evangel. Isn’t that a glorious gospel? That’s why they call it the evangel, the good news. However sinful, however depraved, however lost we may be, both individually as a generation or as a nation, if there’s a turning to God, nevertheless, the Lord God always turns. When a man turns to face God, God always turns to face the man. It’s a great gospel. It’s a great message. It’s a marvelous hope. It’s the good news to human hearts, and it’s our good news.
To give yourself to Jesus, to turn upward, God-ward, heavenward, Christ-ward, to look up, to ask the Lord to come into your heart, today would you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, a family you, on this lower floor, a family you, "Pastor, my wife, my children, we all coming today. Here we are." Or just you, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your soul, make it now. Come now. In the balcony, down one of these stairwells, on the floor into the aisle and down to the front, make the decision now. Make it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it and God will give you strength for the way. Come now. Decide now. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.