Topical Scripture: Judges 2:6-16
A young Malian who immigrated to France will be made a French citizen and has been offered a job by the Paris fire brigade. This after he saved a child dangling from a balcony.
Mamoudou Gassama climbed up four floors of the apartment building in seconds and rescued the child. He has been called a “real-life Spiderman.”
If only such heroes could save us spiritually.
Human nature doesn’t change. The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is still mine. I want to “be as god” (Genesis 3:5). I want to be president of my own universe. I follow God with failing steps and fall down as often as I stand tall. Your story is much the same.
This pattern of sin comes clear early in the history of the Hebrew people. They have no sooner entered their Promised Land than they begin a downward spiral into immorality which stifles their souls and corrupts their nation. We can find the same pattern in our lives and culture. But the God of grace is as ready to heal and restore us as he was ready to help them.
Where do you need his forgiving love?
Failing to transmit the faith (Judges 2:6–7, 10)
Things start well in the Book of Judges. Joshua dismisses the people from the national gathering which heard his final address, “each to his own inheritance” (Judges 2:6). Throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and saw the great works of God, the nation continued to follow the Lord (v. 7).
However, “Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (v. 10). No one told them. No one instructed the next generation in that which the last generation had learned from and about God. The faith is always one generation from extinction, and the worst nearly came to pass here.
It is vital that parents teach the faith to their children. In fact, we who are privileged to be parents have no greater responsibility under God.
We don’t have to adopt Freudian principles to understand that children typically relate to God as they relate to their parents. If our children see us follow Christ at church but not at home, they learn that faith is only for the church building. If they hear us speak in one tone to people but another way behind their backs, they learn that faith is only for public show. If the only time they hear us pray or watch us read Scripture is at church, they learn that prayer and Scripture are only for Sunday.
God’s command is clear: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). These were the most public ways they could display the word of God.
The prophet’s edict is still God’s intention for us: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3).
Genetic engineering is much in the news. The idea that parents can one day determine the sex, hair and eye color, abilities and capabilities of their unborn children is exciting to some and abhorrent to most of us. It is very troubling to me as well.
But while I don’t believe in genetic engineering, I believe very strongly in “spiritual engineering.” We must do all we can to help our families and friends follow Jesus, to mentor them in the Christian faith, to encourage and influence them for Christ. Eternity is at stake.
In what way will the next generation be strong in the faith because of you and those you’ll teach this week?
Spiraling downward (Judges 2:11–19)
The baton has fallen to the ground, and it will never be carried as well again in the Book of Judges. The next verses provide an umbrella under which the narrative across the following chapters fits tragically well. The pattern is clear:
- The people rejected God as their Lord and are worshiping other gods.
- The Lord responded with divine retribution which led to military defeat and “great distress” (v. 15).
- The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (v. 18), so that God had compassion on them.
- He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (v. 16).
This downward slide would continue throughout the Book of Judges, as the conclusion of the book makes clear: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).
Now let’s examine this pattern in more detail, for it is still the basic sin pattern in our lives today.
We reject God as Lord
“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (vs. 11–12a).
Who were these other gods, among them the “Baals” and “Ashtoreths” (v. 13)?
“Baal” was the Canaanite word for “master” or “lord.” The name described one of the chief male deities of Canaanite religion. He was seen as lord of the weather and storms, so that his voice was heard in the thunder, his spear was the lightning bolt, and his steed the storms.
The Canaanites worshiped Baal in a variety of ways, usually on hilltops called “high places” (so they could be as close to him as possible). They sacrificed animals (and sometimes children) and performed sexual dances on his behalf.
The wife of Baal was Ashtoreth. She was seen as the evening star and the goddess of war and fertility. She was worshiped through temple prostitution (involving both men and women). Sacred pillars (perhaps phallic symbols) were placed near the temples of Baal as altars to her. The Greeks worshiped her as Aphrodite, the Romans as Venus.
These deities were enticing to the Israelites as they entered the land of Canaan, for several reasons.
First, the connection of deity with locality was an accepted fact of ancient religion. The Jews were the first people in human history to worship one God and to believe that he was the Lord of the entire universe. Every other ancient people associated individual deities with specific places or functions. Such localized worship was the popular thing to do.
Second, the need to prosper agriculturally was vital for the people as they entered the land. Just as the Pilgrims learned how to farm in the New World from the Indians who already inhabited the land, so these Jews needed to learn how to survive in this new country. If the Canaanites worshiped Baal as a means to their crops’ success, such a practice would be enticing to the Hebrews as well. Religion would serve their quest for prosperity and success.
Third, the sexuality inherent in Canaanite worship would appeal to the Hebrews. They had long been warned against adultery and licentiousness. Now they were surrounded by people who had made sexual pleasure a basic part of their worship. Such lustful religion would appeal to people across ancient history (note the temple prostitutes in Ephesus and Corinth during the apostolic era of the Church).
Popularity, prosperity, and pleasure—are these not still attractive today?
In what ways are you tempted to Baalism today? Human nature doesn’t change. Anything which tempted our parents will also tempt us. Popularity and peer pressure are just as powerful for us as for the ancient Israelites; our desire to succeed can easily corrupt our faith commitments; lust and pleasure can entice us away from obedience to our Father and his word.
Whenever we back down from an unpopular stand for our Lord, or compromise to get ahead, or yield to sinful pleasure, we continue the sin cycle which Judges condemns. Do you have business with God today?
We incur divine wrath
The sin of the Hebrews “provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12–13). With this response: “In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (vv. 14–15).
God is Lord of our circumstances and times. He permits or even causes suffering in our lives when such pain leads to greater good.
We see this pattern across the word of God. Joseph went through Potiphar and prison on his way to Pharaoh and humble service to the Lord. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness until he was ready to put the Lord’s will before his own. The people spent another forty years in wilderness wanderings until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.
Scripture states: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This famous verse does not say that all things are good, but that God will use all things for good. He never wastes a hurt. He is able to redeem any pain which we will give to him.
Our Father deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. God can and will use people, circumstances, and events to draw us back to himself. Is there a place in your life where the Lord has withdrawn his blessing so as to draw you closer to humility and dependence on his strength?
The people “groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (Judges 2:18). And God had pity on his people and intervened with compassion.
It is a tragic fact of human nature that we typically turn to God only when we must. We want to be in charge of our own lives and destinies; “I did it my way” is the theme song of our culture. We must often get so far down that we can look nowhere but up. But when we do, God hears us.
God wants us to come to him in repentance for our sins: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, he is overjoyed when we make this decision: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
Such repentance is the necessary condition to grace. Not because our sorrow earns God’s favor, but because it positions us to receive what God’s grace intends to give. We often think that we must feel badly enough for long enough that our pain merits God’s favor. But his salvation is given only by his grace (Ephesians 2:8–9); our response is gratitude, repentance, and commitment.
God heals and forgives
When we return to God, he responds to us in grace. At this point in Hebrew history, he provided a “judge” who would lead them out of oppression to freedom and prosperity: “Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord had compassion on them” (Judges 2:18).
These “judges” were more than legal arbitrators. They were military leaders, redeemers, and liberators. Each was an instrument in the hands of God, intended to call the nation not to themselves but to the God they served. Through them the Lord provided liberation and protection for his repentant people.
Now through the Lord Jesus, the supreme liberator of mankind, he offers the same compassion today.
Are popularity, prosperity, and pleasure temptations in our culture? In your life? If we put them before God, we incur his wrath as a means to our repentance. But if we choose to repent, God heals and forgives.
Where do you need his grace today? Has the ancient sin cycle surfaced in your life? What business do you have with your Father this week?
Many years ago, in the pioneer days of aviation, a pilot was in the air when he heard a noise which he recognized as the gnawing of a rat. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane. It was a very serious situation. At first the pilot did not know what to do. He was more than two hours from the next landing strip, and two hours gone from the field where he had taken off.
Then he remembered that a rat is a rodent. It was not made for the heights; it was made to live on the ground and under the ground. And so, the pilot began to climb. He went up a thousand feet, then another and another until he was over 20,000 feet up. The gnawing ceased. The rat was dead. It could not survive the atmosphere of those heights. More than two hours later the pilot brought the plane safely to the landing field and found the dead rat.
Sin is a rodent. It cannot live in the secret place of the Most High God. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere of prayer and trust and Scripture and worship. It dies when we take it to the Lord.
This is the promise of God.