“The people worshipped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the Lord’s great works he had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the territory of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshipped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the Lord, for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:7-13 CSV).
It has often been said that God’s people are always one generation from apostasy, from abandoning their faith in God. The people of Israel in the book of Judges are an excellent example of this principle.
As long as Joshua was alive the people remained faithful to God. It wasn’t just Joshua’s leadership but because that entire generation of Israelites had witnessed what God had done for them. Although they were the generation who were born in the wilderness, they saw the Jordan dried up so they could cross, they saw the walls of Jericho fall down, they experienced God being with them as they conquered the people who lived in the Promised Land.
But Joshua died and the elders of the people who were Joshua’s contemporaries died. Eventually all the generation of those who had conquered the land died. The next generation had not experienced what God had done. And, sadly, they didn’t know the Lord – they did not have a relationship with him.
This new generation began to worship the false gods that the people of the land had worshipped. They abandoned the one true God who had given them the land for worthless images made by men.
“The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and he handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as he had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly” (Judges 2:14-15).
God’s reaction might seem strange to us who sometimes think of him in human terms. The problem for Israel was that, as a nation, they had a covenant with God. God would give them the land and would bless them but they had to remain faithful to him. If they left God, he would take the land from them. So he sent their enemies “against them and brought disaster on them, just as he had promised and sworn to them.” God always keeps his word.
But he did not abandon his people. He also raised up “judges” to deliver them from their enemies (Judges 2:16-19). These judges were primarily military leaders, although many performed judicial duties as well. They would rally the Israelites to return to God and usually to fight against their enemies. The Israelites would then remain faithful during the lifetime of that judge, but after he died they would return to worshipping idols.
This became the pattern of the Israelites throughout much of their history. We will see this over and over as we read through Judges.
God cared for his people, as he does for us today. May we learn the lessons of those who lived before us and not only remain faithful to him but teach our children to follow him.
Readings for next week:
9 July – Judges 1
10 July – Judges 2-3
11 July – Judges 4-5
12 July – Judges 6
13 July – Judges 7