The Idolatry of God's People (Judges 2:6-3:6)
How Israel worshiping false gods is just like American Christianity falling into idolatry
6 And when Joshua had dismissed the people, the children of Israel went each to his own inheritance to possess the land.
7 So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. 9 And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres, in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. 10 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.
11 Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; 12 and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.
16 Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. 18 And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. 19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.
20 Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” 23 Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.
3:1 Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan 2 (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), 3 namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. 4 And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
5 Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods.
In the first chapter of the Book of Judges, the conquest under Joshua is recounted, along with Israel’s successes and failures of the conquest. And the story picks up here with that generation and the generation to follow. One generation commits sin of omission—not doing completely what God had commanded, which leads to the next committing sins of commission—actively doing the opposite of what God had commanded. Israel’s disobedience compounds from generation to generation, and throughout it all God is not distant or absent. No, God is right there in the midst of it, dealing with His wayward people.
The generation of the conquest is gathered to their fathers (v. 6-10)
The same event depicted at the end of Joshua in Joshua 24, his dismissal of the people to their land, takes place here. And despite their sin, and God pronouncing His judgment upon them, they worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua and the elders who outlived Joshua. And the things God did in that conquest of Canaan are described as “great works” on par with what God did in the Exodus. We are then told of Joshua’s death at 110 years old, exactly ten years younger than Moses when he died. They buried Joshua in a place called “Portion of the Sun.” Why was Joshua buried in a place called “Portion of the Sun”? Because it draws attention to the greatest miracle God did through him, making the sun stand still so that Israel could prevail in battle. God had done so many great works like that in this generation and in the generation prior. The people had seen God destroy the most powerful empire on the planet with ten devastating plagues. They had crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground while the entire Egyptian army pursuing them was destroyed. They saw God lead them in the wilderness in the pillar of fire and cloud. They saw God descend upon Mount Sinai and give them the Law. They saw God sustain them with manna in the wilderness. They saw God lead them across the Jordan River just like the Red Sea. They saw the walls of Jericho collapse. They saw giants defeated. They saw God deliver them again and again and again. You’d think they of all people would tell teach their children these things. But what does it say? Another generation arose that did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel. The next generation did not know Him.
The Evil of the Next Generation and God’s Judgment (v. 11-15)
Because that generation did not know the Lord, they began to do great evil right before His face. What was this great evil? The children of Israel served the Baals and rejected Yahweh. They followed the Baals and other gods from among the Canaanites. They bowed down to them. The Bible makes a big deal of this. Modern American Christianity doesn’t have categories for posture in worship. But in the Bible, repeatedly, again and again and again we are told things like “Come let us worship and bow down.” We think of bowing and kneeling as a very Roman Catholic thing, but it’s really a Bible thing. We should always be trying to reform our worship and conform it more and more to the Bible, and move away from determining how we worship in a man-centered way. But instead of bowing down to Yahweh and drawing near to Him as He commanded, Israel bowed down to Baal and the other gods of the Canaanites.
So what does God do? God gives Israel what they want. “You want to serve the Canaanite Gods? I am giving you over to the Canaanites.” The punishment fits the crime. Now, Israel can no longer keep the Canaanites around to extract wealth from. Now Israel is the one put under tribute to the Canaanites. They are the ones being plundered. And it was not merely the Canaanites oppressing them. The hand of the Lord was against them. Just as Jesus came in judgment against the temple at the head of the Roman army in 70 AD, here He is coming in judgment against Israel at the head of the Canaanite army. God is the one chastising His people.
God’s Mercy to A People Who Do Not Deserve It (v. 16-23)
Right at the beginning of verse 16 is a glorious word for people deep in rebellion against their God: nevertheless. Despite their sin, God acts. That is how God is with all of us. Despite our sin, God shows us mercy. Not one of us deserve mercy. All of us deserve wrath. Only because of Jesus (who takes the wrath we deserve away) do we see God’s mercy. And the same is true for Israel here. God shows them grace in the form of judges. God raising up someone to judge does not sound like mercy and grace. But in an age of total lawlessness, perversion, and idolatry, God raising up a judge is pure mercy. In an age of lawlessness, having the law taught and applied is grace. And not only would these judges mediate God’s law they also lead Israel in battle and delivered them from the hand of their enemies.
But even this grace God showed His people was spurned. They would not listen to their judges. They whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They didn’t just turn from the way of their fathers, but turned quickly, and refused to obey the commandments of Yahweh. And despite having a judge with them, who we are told Yahweh was with and who delivered them out of the hand of their enemies, when the judge died, the people would get even worse.
Not only did the people spurn the commandment of the Lord, but when God sent someone to rescue them, they spurned that guy, too. So God’s response to them is to be angry. And He pronounces judgment upon Israel: because you have violated My covenant, all those nations that were left in The Land I am not going to drive out. They are staying to be a test to you, whether you will walk in my ways or not.
The Canaanitization of Israel (3:1-5)
God leaves the nations of Canaan in The Land as a test to Israel. The next generation, which had not fought the wars of conquest now are forced to deal with these nations. The five lords of the Philistines (who have apparently regrouped after losing 3 or their 5 strongholds), all the various Canaanites, people of Sidon, and Hivites of Lebanon. They were left as a test: keep My covenant or break it.
And so what was the result?
The children of Israel dwelt among those people, and took Canaanite daughters to be their wives, and gave their Israelite daughters to Canaanite sons, and Israel served Canaanite Gods.
Israel failed the test.
Idolatry and its consequences that we see here in Judges gives us a window into how the world that God created works. Religious belief is not some isolated, self-contained thing.
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