SPIRITUAL DECLINE Judges 1–3
“Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel” (Jdg. 2:10).There is cause and effect in the spiritual as well as physical universe. The cause of the failure of the next generation to know God was rooted in the incomplete obedience of its parents.
Centuries before, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would possess Canaan. Under Joshua these descendants, the Israelites, invaded the Promised Land. In an extended military campaign Joshua broke the power of the Canaanite city-states, and then distributed the land to Israelite tribes. But there were still pockets of resistance; areas occupied by the various ethnic groups that had settled Canaan long before. Each Hebrew tribe was responsible to drive out any Canaanites left as its population grew and its people needed more land. But there was one requirement. The Canaanites were to be exterminated or driven from the land, lest their religion corrupt God’s chosen people. The Book of Judges tells the tragic story of a people who have been blessed by God, but forfeit their future by incomplete obedience.
Judah boldly attacked Canaanites remaining in its territory (1:1–26). But other tribes failed to drive the Canaanites out (vv. 27–36). God refused further aid to His disobedient people (2:1–5). The next generations turned to idols and intermarried with the Canaanites, causing national decline. Even the judges God provided effect only temporary recommitment to the Lord (vv. 6–23).
Understanding the Text
“The Lord was with the men of Judah” Jdg. 1:1–26. After Joshua’s death the tribe of Judah demonstrated continuing faith in God. They boldly attacked the Canaanites still within their territory. The victories they won should have encouraged all Israel. One of the most significant things we can do to strengthen our faith is read Christian biographies. While these are not published frequently today, the life stories of men and women of faith can challenge and encourage us. Relatively recent publications like Through Gates of Splendor and Born Again, as well as older classics about Hudson Taylor and George Muller, can deepen our awareness of what God is able to do through individuals. If only the rest of the tribes of Israel had learned from Judah’s experience, the next few hundred years of Israel’s history might have been different. Archeology confirms the Old Testament picture of the Israelites confined in Canaan’s hill country (Jdg. 1:19). In the lowlands Canaanite chariot armies seemed too strong for the fearful Israelites to attack. Chariots like this one were the tanks of ancient warfare. By this era they were used to directly attack and smash formations of foot soldiers. “The Canaanites were determined” Jdg. 1:27–36. The other tribes did not follow Judah’s example. They hesitated to attack the Canaanites in their territory. The Canaanites were more determined to stay than Israel was to obey God and drive them out! This hesitation to obey God led to direct disobedience. When Israel did become strong, rather than attack the Canaanites they simply enslaved them. Any failure to obey is a step toward direct disobedience. “They will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare” Jdg. 2:1–5. God confronted Israel with the sin of disobedience and pronounced judgment. He would withdraw His support. Now Israel would not be able to drive out the Canaanites. In the spiritual life, “will not” all too soon becomes “cannot.” “Therefore the Lord was very angry” Jdg. 2:6–23. The author of Judges now injects a summary that traces a sequence of events which was repeated throughout this era. Each element of the cycle can be seen in most of the stories of the judges found in this book. The overall evaluation of the period is expressed powerfully in 2:19. “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” Each cycle saw the people of God pull farther away from the Lord, and subjected them to even harsher judgments. The normal Christian life is intended to be an unbroken walk of fellowship with the Lord. Those who see Christian experience as a cycle of sin, confession, restoration, temporary obedience, and sin again, have missed the message of this Old Testament book. Each time we choose to venture into sin we are likely to go farther. God is always willing to take us back. But sin will ultimately harden our hearts against Him. “Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord” Jdg. 3:12–31. Judges 3 briefly outlines the story of two early judges. Note that each story incorporates all elements of the cycle outlined below.
We can break cycles like this in our lives only by resisting the temptation to sin. CYCLE OF EVENTS
|SIN||2:11–13||The Israelites turn to Baal worship and immorality.|
|SERVITUDE||2:14–15||Foreign nations defeat, oppress Israel.|
|SUPPLICATION||2:15||Under oppression Israel confesses sin, prays.|
|SALVATION||2:16||God raised up judges to deliver His people.|
|SILENCE||2:18||During his life the judge keeps Israel more or less faithful to the Lord.|
Growing the Next Generation (Jdg. 2)
Ever run into one of those sayings designed to make parents feel guilty? Like, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”? Or, “The apple never falls far from the tree”? Personally, I don’t buy the implication. Each person is responsible for his or her own choices. I can’t take credit for the godly choices my grown-up children make. And I’m not responsible for their wrong or foolish choices either. But this passage, like so many in these early books of the Old Testament, makes it clear that each generation does influence the next. Here the text tells us that “after that whole generation [which had fought with Joshua for Canaan] had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel” (v. 10). Somehow a whole generation had failed to communicate the reality of its experience with God to the next. If you wonder why they failed, the answer is right there in chapter 1 of this Old Testament book. After Joshua’s death, only Judah exhibited trust in God and took on the Canaanite enemy. The others hesitated, fearfully. And when, by sheer force of growing numbers, they overawed the Canaanites, rather than drive them out the Israelites enslaved them. The parents failed to trust God. They disobeyed God. And their children “knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.” You and I can’t guarantee that our children will know the Lord or live for Him. But if we trust God enough to act on His Word, if we are obedient in our daily lives, our children will never be able to say of God, “I didn’t know Him.” The reality of who God is is displayed in the faith moms and dads put into practice, and in their obedience to His Word.
There’s nothing more important we can do for our children than love, trust, and obey the Lord.