One Thing that Can Trigger Revivals
In Judges (and 1 Samuel 7) we have statements that there were revivals of true religion after times of apostasy.
A theme that occurs over and over again runs like this: “Israel again did evil in the eyes of the Lord and he gave them over to ----- for ---- years. When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of their distress he sent them --- who delivered them.”
There are two examples in particular that I think repay closer inspection.
The first is that of Gideon.
In Sunday School we tended to focus on the episodes of “Gideon's fleece”; the choosing only the 300 warriors who didn't kneel down to drink; and the exciting bit of smashing the pitchers, holding up flaring torches, blowing trumpets, shouting “for the Lord and for Gideon” and standing there while the confused Midianites killed each other. For our purposes I want to pass over those.
In Judges 6 we have the familiar “again the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord”. This time “and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Then after a brief account of their privations under this incessant raiding: “When the Israelites cried out to the Lord he sent them a prophet ...” So God's first response on this occasion was to call the nation to repentance, for the prophet's message was: “This is what the Lord the God of Israel says: I brought you up out Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you 'I am the Lord your God, do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.' But you have not listened to me”.
So in answer to their cry for help there was a reminder of God's gracious dealings with them in the past and their ingratitude and disobedience. Interestingly there is no mention of their response to this call to repentance at this stage, rather the narrative continues with God beginning to rescue them.
Gideon is told he is God's chosen leader for this purpose. Like many others in this position he demurs at first but when God demonstrates his presence, Gideon accepts his commission. Now we come to an interesting bit. What is the first task God sets Gideon? (can you remember without looking it up)
Gideon's first assignment is to tear down the local pagan shrine and offer a bull as a burnt offering to the real God.
This may sound simple: it was not!
Gideon sensibly did it at night, and even so, when the fact was discovered the men of the town demanded Gideon be put to death.
So the populace could not have listened to the prophet sent to them if their attachment to the cult of Baal and Asherah were still so strong that they wanted to Kill Gideon for challenging it. Nevertheless God proceeds to rescue these ingrates! But I think it is really significant that his chosen leader has to thus demonstrate his loyalty to God.
Coming forward to the present day, how would any of us even in a society where we at least won't be killed fare in standing up against false “gods” that have been intertwined in our culture? I offer this challenge because I have faced it myself! Yes, I chose loyalty to God and no I wasn't killed, but on the other hand I was not rescued as Gideon was by his father's edict: “Whoever fights for Baal will be put to death by morning” instead I paid – only in human terms of course – a price for my loyalty. Of course I don't regret it for a moment! (well not many moments anyway), as Paul said anything we suffer now is nothing in comparison to the glory which awaits us in heaven. But I have mentioned this as a warning that being part of a revival will not be all fun and games!
The second example is in the preface to the account of Jephthah in Judges 10.
The usual start “again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the philistines”. The Israelites certainly seem to have outdone themselves in disobeying and forsaking God this time! Then: “ he sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites who that year crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed them.”
Once again when their suffering brought them to their senses “the Israelites cried out to the Lord 'We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals'.”
This looks like repentance, but this time God is tough on them : “The Lord replied 'When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods so I will no longer save you. Go cry out to to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are I trouble!”
This is a lesson which is repeated and expanded on through the Bible. For instance the N.E.B. translates Rom. 2,4 as “Or do you think lightly of his wealth of kindness, of tolerance and of patience, without recognising that God's kindness is meant to lead you to a change of heart?”
In this case they had thought lightly of God's kindness so he resorts to toughness which fortunately for them does lead the people to a real change of heart: “But the Israelites said to the Lord 'we have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.' Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer.” And God does rescue them.
So at least one thing that can trigger revival is when suffering as a result of abandoning God brings people sufficiently to their senses that they ask God for help.
Perhaps that is like a group version of the “Prodigal Son” who only comes to his senses when he is starving and finds forgiveness and reconciliation when he takes the road back to his father. We may see further instances of this particular cause of revival, and find others as we proceed.