God is of First Importance (Judges 1:1-27)

I may not know who you are, but if you are a human being living in reality, right now there are likely a few things consuming your attention. There are likely a few things that you are concerned about, that cause you to worry or that burden your soul. These things—or this thing—may reign over you to the point where it seems really, really big and everything else in your life seems really, really small in comparison. Let me then ask you a question: is the thing that holds the deed to your heart God? Because what the Word of God tells us is that God is of first importance. He is the one who matters most, and if the ultimate concern of our hearts is anything other than the Lord, then something is amiss. When God is of secondary importance, what results is an unhappy, disrupted life where we cannot enjoy the full benefits of redemption. Accordingly, what the Word of God also tells us is that once we begin to focus on the One who really matters, everything else we are worrying about will be sorted out. Beloved, the point of today’s episode is simple: God is of first importance.

Our Scripture focus comes from the Old Testament book of Judges. To provide the historical setting, the Book of Judges describes a time in Israel’s history after the conquest of the Promised Land, but before the nation had its first king (Saul). So, basically, in the time after Joshua died but before Saul came to power, there was no national leader. In this time, there was also rampant godlessness, idolatry and immorality. As it says in Judges 21:25:

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

This teaches the important spiritual lesson that without a righteous leader, people do what they want and society degenerates into ungodliness. When I am my own king, I will lead myself toward my own destruction while preparing a throne in Sheol. Hence, the Book of Judges ultimately points to Christ, the perfect King that would come and then reign in the hearts of His people. Christ’s kingdom is built upon the foundation of grace, holiness, truth, righteousness and justice.

Ironically, the people of Israel were close to God in the wilderness when they were lacking, but they were far from Him in the abundance of Canaan. Yet even though God’s people may have forgotten about Him, God never forgets His people. And so, through the Book of Judges, God sends several deliverers—or judges—that guided the people out of oppression. One of those judges was Gideon.

At the beginning of Judges 6, we read that the sons of Israel were doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord. As a result, God handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. Judges 6:2 tells us that “the power of Midian prevailed against Israel” so that whatever the sons of Israel had sown, the Midianites destroyed. Life was hard, and verse 6 says that “Israel was brought very low because of Midian.” Consequently, “the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord.” God responded by sending His people a prophet. And what was God’s message? In verses 8-10 God speaks and says:

It was I who brought you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I rescued you from the hands of the Egyptians, and from the hands of all your oppressors, and I drove them out from you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live.” But you have not obeyed Me.

In other words, the people thought their biggest problem was the Midianites. They thought if only their situation were to change, then everything would be all right. Yet God told them their biggest problem was their own idolatry. What was of first importance was to turn away from sin and toward the Lord.

What happens next is that God visits Gideon. Verses 11-18 say:

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” And the Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this strength of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” But he said to Him, “O Lord, how am I to save Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” Yet the Lord said to him, “I will certainly be with you, and you will defeat Midian as one man.” So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then perform for me a sign that it is You speaking with me. Please do not depart from here until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.”

Notice here that Gideon’s initial response to God’s Word mirrors that of his countrymen. That is, Gideon also believes that his biggest problem is something outside of himself. Gideon wants to see more miracles and the removal of Midianite oppression. After all, his initial response to the angel was:

[I]f the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.

What happens next is that God descends to the level of Gideon’s unbelief and performs a sign: He causes fire to come up from a rock and consume meat and bread that were in a basket. Gideon now realizes he is speaking to God and says:

Oh, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face! (Judges 6:22)

Gideon then builds an altar to the Lord and worships. What happens next is very instructive. The first task that God now gives to Gideon has absolutely nothing to do with Midianites and everything to do with proper worship. In fact, this first task is for Gideon to clean out a spiritual mess in his father’s house. Judges 6:25-27 says:

Now on the same night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly way, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” Then Gideon took ten men from his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night.

Gideon certainly had many concerns on his mind and many matters pressing on his heart. God would eventually use Gideon to liberate His people, but where does God cause Gideon to start? Not with what Gideon believed to be of first importance. Gideon falsely thought his biggest problems were external, because his focus was not on the things of the Lord. God therefore starts by drawing Gideon’s attention back to proper worship. Thus, Gideon’s first task is to tear down all the idols in his house and erect an altar to the Lord in its place. God is of first importance, and so, by grace, God shows Gideon that his primary attention should not be on men of earth but on the God of heaven. After all, the First Commandment is to worship God alone (Exodus 20:3). The Second Commandment is no idolatry (Exodus 20:4). And let us not forget what Judges 6:1 tells us: the reason why the people of Israel were handed over to foreign oppression is that they did evil in the sight of God. Because of their disobedience, God was justly punishing their sin. The triumphs of their enemies were only permitted because the people of Israel did not triumph over their own sin. The solution to their dilemma, then, was to repent and return to the Lord.

Indeed, based upon what happens in later chapters, people may have critiques to make of Gideon. It is true that his subsequent worship was not perfect, but no person’s worship is ever perfect. The fact remains that God spoke and Gideon obeyed: in Judges 6 he did what was right in the eyes of God. Consequently, it is only after this return to proper worship that God would use Gideon and three hundred men to subdue the Midianites and bring about forty years of peace in the land.

So what does the narrative in Judges 6 teach us? It helps us to see that the Israelites had many troubles and worries, but their mistake was keeping their eyes focused on all those troubles and worries. Those things were not of first importance. Only God is of first importance. And so, there isn’t a turning point in the narrative until one man begins to listen to and obey the Lord. Hence, you may be reading these words with many matters on your heart, but consider: how will it profit you in the end if God is secondary in anything?


God is of first importance. There are three applications of this teaching.

One: A mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

Again, if we go back to the beginning of Judges 6, the text makes clear to us by way of remembrance that what explained the Israelite predicament was covenantal disobedience. We may see that clearly because by His grace, God is teaching us by connecting the dots of history. But guess what: for the Israelites who were living in the time of Judges 6, their sin blinded them to their own sin. Consequently, while they could see the enemies around them, they were unable to appreciate the evil within themselves. This is what sin does: it numbs the mind and deadens the soul to things of God. Hence, a pressing lesson for all of us is that we must not follow the example of the ancient Israelites. What they teach us is that if you worship dead idols, you will become spiritually dead. If you permit sin to reign, keep up your lusts and retain unmortified, sensual desires, your sins will strive against the truth and the things of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). As a result, every spiritual duty will become unpleasant to you: sin will become natural and easy, while righteousness will become unnatural and laborious. This is because the things of the Spirit will be opposed to your carnal inclinations and desires.

A mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, and so what you are called to do is tear down your idols and mortify your flesh so that you will more enjoy the things of the Spirit. A man cannot get healthy if he maintains unhealthy habits. Thus, a man cannot ask for a greater spiritual appetite if he feasts at Satan’s banquet. What is the result if this counsel is ignored? If a person were to yield to sin and deal unfaithfully with God, it would weary them, wound their conscience and burden them with guilt. This is like a man who pulls his own hip out of its socket and then wonders why he cannot stand. He will then be like an Israelite of Judges 6 who asks, “How long, O Lord?”

A mind hostile to God is blind to the sweetness and excellence of Him. God is all-powerful and stands ready to do good for His children, just as a Father delights in making His children happy. Sin will delude you into thinking that you can do better than God when the truth is that the only reason why many do not know the bountiful treasures of God’s grace is that they have never striven for it. There is such a thing as the pleasure and contentment of holiness. But in order to experience these things, you must flee from sin, crucify your flesh and abhor evil so that—by repentance and faith—you may draw near the infinite love of God.

Two: God is of first importance. So, take care of God’s things and He will take care of yours.

In Ephesians 2:4-7 the apostle Paul writes:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Here, the apostle tells us that you and I have now been raised with Christ into heavenly places. You have been adopted into an eternal family. One day, you will live in Paradise in a new heaven and earth. You will see God face to face and, with a heart no longer burdened by sin and a body no longer decaying in infirmity, you will praise Him. The apostle also tells us earlier in the same letter (Ephesians 1:16-17) that what he is praying for is spiritual illumination for the church: that is, so that the saints’ eyes are opened to a knowledge of Christ and the benefits of redemption. These are the matters that burdened Paul’s heart. These matters are what Paul regards as being of first importance, and thus what he prays for. Now with this in mind, what is it that we are concerned about and thus are praying for? What is it that consumes our thoughts and demands our time and thus saturates our prayers? For us to stay healthy and live long? For us to get a better job? For that bothersome neighbor to move somewhere else?

Alistair Begg has an excellent book called Pray Big. In the following quote, he’s talking about prayer, but the principle he communicates is that God and His kingdom are of first importance. Mr. Begg writes:

When the eyes of our hearts are opened to our future, it changes our lives now—it reorders our priorities and our prayers. We pray less about the practical details of this life, and first and foremost about the spiritual realities of our eternal life. Eternal matters matter more; the concerns of today less.

In other words, Mr. Begg says that eternity matters more than the present. And so, when we truly believe this truth, we will live it. This does not mean we ignore or minimize our present reality, but we live in the present cognizant that it is not the most important thing: God is. (As an aside, Mr. Begg will go on to note that this perspective helps to explain why the prayers of the apostles in the New Testament sound very unlike the prayers we make today. The things that so regularly fill our prayers are so noticeably absent from theirs.)

Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-33. The Lord says:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather crops into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more important than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single day to his life’s span? And why are you worried about clothing? Notice how the lilies of the field grow; they do not labor nor do they spin thread for cloth, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.

What Jesus explains to us here is that there are many creatures less than you, but are they worrying about their practical, day-to-day concerns? They are not! And don’t you matter more than birds or flowers? Christ Himself directs our priorities in verse 33 when He tells us what is of first importance:

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.

Again, to quote Alastair Begg, what Jesus is saying here is:

If you take care of my things, I’ll take care of your things. The hub—the center of our lives and our actions—is always spiritual … All that matters may be brought before God, but we must always bring before God those things that matter most.

Mr. Begg then goes on to use the analogy of a wheel. The central hub is the key to all the spokes. If the hub is defective or weak, the vehicle is compromised, and the spokes will be ineffective and inefficient in transportation. Our hub is spiritual, and it is what the focus of our lives ought to be. Your hub—or your spiritual belief system—is what will drive all of your practical actions. So, let us now use all this insight and bring it back to the text. The people of Judges 6 had many practical, earthly, day-to-day concerns. On the tips of their tongues were complaints about the Midianites and worry over the fate of their crops. But were any of those things what truly mattered? No. The solution to everything was to turn away from sin and toward the Lord. Consequently, when we follow God’s command and seek first the kingdom of God, it is then that He will take care of all the peripheral matters in life. We are called to “cast our cares” on the Lord (I Peter 5:7) because God never intended for us to carry those cares. He intends to carry them for us, but what we must do is focus on Him. Take care of God’s things and He will take care of yours.

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.

Three: God is of first importance. This is why God doesn’t give us specific instructions for all practical situations in the Bible.

II Peter 1:3 tells us that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. This raises the question, then: why can’t I find specific answers to specific questions in life? Why can’t the Bible tell me which job to choose or how to navigate a family crisis? One answer is because God doesn’t want His children to focus on answers or instructions without Him. Instead, He provides something better: Himself. This is why God doesn’t give us specific instructions for all practical situations in the Bible. He intends for us to seek Him, while He exercises His arms of providence to direct all things together for good for those who love Him. God doesn’t give us specific instructions for every life situation, because we are called to simply trust Him. If we trust Him, we will seek Him first, and not anything else. If we trust Him, we trust that He will make good on the promise that if we take care of His things, He will take care of ours. God is of first importance.

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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