The Problem with Restraint

Judges 4:2 “So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan” (NIV).

Observation: Ehud delivered Israel from its Moabite enemy. He had personally killed the Moabite king and then led the Israelite army to victory over Moab, ushering in an eighty-year reign of peace for the nation (see Judg. 3:30). Following Ehud’s death, Israel began sinning again, leading the Lord to “sell” them into the hands of a Canaanite king.

Application: Apparently the peace that followed Ehud’s victory led to wanton idolatry after his death. Ehud was no doubt a good ruler, but the quick turning to sinful behavior after his death suggests that he may have been more feared than was God. We are told nothing of Ehud’s methods of ruling, but restraint clearly died with him, exposing once again the unredeemed hearts of the people.

The striking phrase to consider in all this is that “the Lord sold” them. How can a free people be sold? The following verses indicate that Israel was militarily oppressed, yet the specific language here suggests a people enslaved, not defeated, although defeat surely accompanied enslavement. What is this saying to us? Weren’t the Hebrews living in the Promised Land? Hadn’t they been established there as a free people rescued from Egyptian bondage generations earlier? A people truly free could never be sold; only from enslavement could that occur.

Eighty years of peace had obviously not been used to cultivate a deepening relationship with God. That’s the problem with long stretches of peace. My best growth has occurred not on life’s mountaintops, but in its dark valley recesses. The question bears asking: am I any different from these Hebrews? What is the quality of my secret life in God? Does it govern my mind and heart even when no one is looking, or do I pursue sinful habits when I am convinced no one will know? An honest assessment of my heart in concealment is far more accurate than during exposure.

I have learned to look good outwardly, to be well mannered, and to appear an honest citizen. But it is in the darkness, in my alone moments, when my true character is exposed. It is then that I know whether I am enslaved to some dark practice or truly free in Christ. He died for a far higher purpose than to simply reform my behavior; His purpose is to capture my heart. A heart once fully captivated can no longer incline toward slavery; instead, it will revel in intimacy with God and long for even more. My secret life in Christ must explode into greater realms of joy as my identification with Him is complete.

Prayer: Father, who or what are the restraining Ehuds in my life? Show me, Lord. What will be left of my character when Ehud is gone? I willingly crucify those things that stunt my character. Thank You, Lord, for Your finished work.

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