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Without a King

Jul 26, 2020 | Rob Culler

It's a short trip

Judges 2:16-17
Without a King – Part 1

July 26, 2020

 Pastor Rob Culler (Note: This is a copy of Pastor Rob's manuscript and not a transcript of the message.)

Listen to these headlines and tell me if you’re surprised.

  • Family feud leaves brothers dead!
  • Powerful government leader caught in “love nest.”
  • Gang rape leads to victim’s death and dismemberment.
  • Girls at party kidnapped and forced to marry strangers.
  • Woman judge says travelers no longer safe on highways.

Welcome to the United States in 2020, right? Nope! These headlines are not taken from US news sources. They do not describe 2020 (though it seems like could). These headlines describe what things were like in the OT book of Judges. And that’s the background for our new series, “Without a King.”

Let me go back and give you a little more history. God’s people were slaves in Egypt until God raised up a deliverer named Moses. He led them out of Egypt to the place where God made a covenant with them before they would head to the Promised Land.

In this covenant, Israel’s basic responsibilities were (1) to love and obey Yahweh as the only true God; (2) to teach their children God’s laws; (3) to be thankful for God’s blessings; (4) and to separate themselves from the worship of the pagan gods in the land of Canaan. God promised blessing and protection if they would keep the covenant and discipline and punishment if they didn’t. The people readily agreed to the terms.

Joshua became the leader after Moses died. He led them into the Promised Land, led the army to conquer major cities, and then divided the land amongst the 12 tribes of Israel. Each tribe was then responsible to clear their area of pagan peoples and worship practices.

The tribe of Judah was the first to embark on this task. They made great progress until they encountered a people group with iron chariots who proved to be more formidable foes than anyone else they had faced. They were so formidable, that Judah chose to let them live in the land instead of driving them out. What might be seen as small hiccup in a larger plan, was a failure that would be repeated over and over as the remaining tribes failed to rid the land of pagan peoples and their worship practices.

Let me summarize this way: the people of Israel made progress in settling the Promised Land until they met resistance. Instead of overcoming the resistance, they quit trying and settled for less than God had asked of them and promised them. In failing persevere and face the resistance, they started down a slippery slope they could never have envisioned. When they met resistance, they said, “We can’t,” but God saw it for what it was, “we won’t.” They did most of what God told them to do, but not all of it. They did what they thought was enough, but it wasn’t.

          The title of this series is “Without a King,” and we’re focusing on what happens to a society when everyone feels they can do whatever they want. We’re going to find out that such a society eventually devolves into chaos and anarchy.

What was true in the days of the Judges is also true today. Pastor and commentator Warren Wiersbe rightfully notes, “The Book of Judges is the inspired record of Israel’s failures and God’s faithfulness. But if we study this book only as past history, we’ll miss the message completely. This book is about God’s people today.”[1]

          If we’re not careful, there are two ideas that can trip us up when we delve into stories like the ones we’ll find in Judges. First, we can become prideful and dismissive thinking, “I would never do something like that.” Second, we can become prideful and dismissive thinking, “That’s not for me, but I know who needs to hear this.”

          The reality, however, is that since society is a collection of individuals, the diagnosis and treatment of society’s problems must begin with individuals and that happens best when we let it happen with us instead of passing it off on others.

          So, as we move through this series, though there will be plenty of chances for us to say, “I’d never do that” and “I know who needs to hear this,” we’d do well to look in the mirror instead of out the window. We’d do well to echo the prayer of the Psalmist about the times of the Judges, “Save us, O Lord our God! Gather us back from among the nations, so we can thank your holy name and rejoice and praise you,” (Psalm 106:47, NLT).

          Israel’s troubles started when the struggle got more difficult than they’d ever experienced. Instead of persevering (Does that sound like something we heard in the last series?), they quit fighting and when they quit fighting, they gave the enemy new life which ultimately led Israel to make peace with the enemy and compromise the covenant God made with them.

          What started with a little compromise here and little compromise there blossomed into full-blown rebellion against God and the eventual downfall of God’s people. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened, and it serves as a warning for us.

          In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us why we should pay attention to this history: These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us …. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall, (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12).

          So, let’s make this personal today: what compromise(s) have we learned to live with? What are we doing (or allowing) in our lives that we know is dangerous? In what areas of our lives are we playing with fire?

          Let me tell you why we need to ask these questions and be ready for honest answers: because  it’s a short trip from piety to prostitution. Let me say that again, it’s a short trip from piety to prostitution.

          You’re probably thinking, where in the world did that come from? It’s a fair question. In previewing what was to come in the book of Judges, the author wrote these words, “the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers. Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands”, (Judges 2:16-17, NLT).

          That first compromise was the first step on a path from piety to prostitution. Piety is reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligation. To prostitute oneself is to sell or offer oneself in an unworthy manner. That’s exactly what Israel did and that’s exactly what we do when we compromise God’s standards with the standards of the world around us. What starts out gradually and maybe even innocently can quickly become a slippery slope from which we find it difficult to find our footing or stand our ground.

          Many times, the origins of compromise come down to a question of can’t vs. won’t. Generally, when someone “can’t” do something, it’s because they lack the skill to do it; when someone “won’t” do something, it’s because they lack the will to do it. Though that distinction seems clear, many folks say, “I can’t” when they mean, “I won’t.” It lets them off the hook because if they “can’t” do it, then failure isn’t their fault.[2]

  • I can’t stop drinking.
  • I can’t quit smoking.
  • I can’t lose weight.
  • I can’t learn a new skill.
  • I can’t do this job.
  • I can’t change my eating habits.
  • I can’t let the hurt and bitterness go.
  • I can’t move on from this gut punch.
  • I can’t wear a mask.
  • I can’t socially distance.

I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.

Please understand that I’m not saying these things are easy. In fact, it’s the difficulty that often makes us substitute “I can’t” for “I won’t.” This is also true as we encounter difficulties that come with learning to follow Christ.

The path of discipleship is not an easy path. Following Christ is just plain hard sometimes. That should not surprise us. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it,” (Matthew 16:24-25, NLT).

In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way,” (Matthew 5:11-12, NLT).

Not only is following Christ hard because of the way we can sometimes be treated, it’s also hard because the fights against sin and self are vicious. The Apostle Paul alluded to this in his letter to the Romans, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:21-24). He wrote to the Colossians that we need to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” us, (Colossians 3:5, NLT).

If you can identify with what I’m going to say next, give me a “that’s right” in-person and online: how many of you can agree with me that the sinful, earthly things in life don’t seem to die quiet, peaceful deaths? I’ve learned that more often than not, they go down kicking and screaming, and raising their ugly heads whenever they get the chance—especially when I begin to rest in the fact that I’ve finally beaten them.

And if I’m not careful, I can get tired of the fight and conclude that it’s useless or not worth the hassle. In some way, that’s right…if we’re trying to go it alone. The good news, however, is that we’re not alone. We have God and we have his family!

And here’s where we encounter the most insidious danger of compromise—it brings relational distance.

  • Think about Adam and Eve. Before eating the fruit, they took walks with God. After eating it, they hid themselves in shame.
  • Think about yourself (if you’re ever like me).
    • When I’m wrong, and I know I’m wrong, sometimes the last thing I want to do is talk to God because I know that he knows what I’ve done, or said, or thought. The very one I need to talk to is the one I want don’t want to talk to because compromise (sin) brings relational distance.
    • As far as relational distance from people is concerned, let someone borrow money from you and not pay it back; see how interested they are in relational proximity.
  • The point is that with God and people, when we’re wrong, we often seek distance from them instead of closeness with them.

          So, how do we guard against compromise? How to we guard against “I can’t” when it’s really “I won’t?” It’s all about connection—connection with God and connection with his family. To that end, I want to encourage you to maintain (or develop) habits that encourage spiritual growth and development instead of compromise.

  • Meaningfully connect with God
    • Habit of prayer
    • Habit of Bible reading
  • Meaningfully live in community with God’s family
    • Habit of corporate worship
    • Habit of accountability

          But what if I’ve already compromised? The good news is that you can get back on the right track! The answers for you are the same as they are for those guarding against compromise—connection with God and connection with his family.

  • Meaningfully connect with God
    • Repentance
    • Vigilance
    • Habit of prayer
    • Habit of Bible reading
  • Meaningfully live in community with God’s family
    • Habit of corporate worship
    • Habit of accountability

We have some tools to help you do these things. See the notes for today’s message. You’ll be seeing even more tools in the coming weeks.




[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1994). Be Available (p.20). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] James, Geoffrey. “Can’t vs. Won’t: Know the Difference,”, September 4, 2012,, accessed July 23, 2020.

Series Information

What happens to a society when everyone thinks they can do whatever they want? We'll look at this question as we take a 6-week survey of the Old Testament book of Judges.