Monday, February 17, 2020

Don't Forget! - Judges 2:1-10

Judges 1:1-3:6 reads as a preface and/or foundation for the rest of the book. What is provided in these opening chapters sets the stage for the cycles of judges and their exploits that will be described in 3:7 and onward. Last week, Judges chapter 1 revealed what was taking place “out in the open”/visibly in this period in Israel’s history. Judah and Simeon and Caleb enjoyed relative success in conquering some of the pagan people still left in the land and yet even in this enterprise they endorsed pagan forms of torture and were intimidated by iron chariots. The other tribes for their part, expelled some of the wicked nations and allowed others to remain. Some Israelites even enslaved some of the people they were supposed to expel! While we looked at how these small concessions were ill-conceived as we drew applications in chapter 1, chapter 2 goes long way in explaining why and how Israel fell into moral and spiritual decay. In other words, the theological reasons for what was happening in chapter 1 are revealed in chapter 2. Today we are going to look at two accounts given in Judges 2:1-10 and learn what was at the root of Israel’s failure during this period.

1. The Provisions and Punishments from God-2:1-6

The reasons/explanations for the failure of God’s people to properly settle their land (the (anti)conquest that took place in chapter 1) are not reached after introspection and self-reflection on the part of the Israelites. Instead, Israel’s failure prompts God himself to confront his people through an angel—“ Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim…” (2:1a). Beginning in Gilgal (Israel’s main campsite after crossing the Jordan river and location of the twelve stones that stood as a reminder of God’s miraculous power and ability to fulfill his promises—see Josh 4:20-24) and traveling to Bochim (to be explained in due course), this angel emerges as both a third-party observer of Israel’s failures and an authority that is both able and qualified to speak truth into their situation. One commentator has speculated that this angel’s initial location (Gilgal) might suggest that the God who sent him was still residing in or had retreated to Joshua’s campsite at the entry point of the land (at least figuratively speaking) (Chisholm, Judge and Ruth, 138).   

The first order of business for this angel involves reminding God’s people (who were behaving as though they had already forgotten) of God’s miraculous power and faithfulness that was witnessed in the exodus story—“and he said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers” (2:1b). These kinds of reminders are reminiscent of Exodus 34 and Joshua 23 in which the Lord recalls how he had delivered Israel out of Egypt and brought them into the promised land.

Taking a moment to consider all that God did to accomplish this might prove beneficial. God’s sovereign hand had preserved Moses’ young life when babies were being killed, allowed Moses a unique upbringing, miraculously called Moses after he had left Egypt in the burning bush, equipped Moses to perform many miracles, used Moses to enact 10 plagues against Egypt and a stubborn Pharaoh, led Moses and his people by day and by night and through the Red sea, provided for Moses and his people in the wilderness, and much more! All of this demonstrates the great care, patience, and provision God has and will continue to have for his chosen people.

All of this God was wiling to do for his people because of his commitment to his covenant promises—“and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you’…” (2:1c). This covenant corresponds to both the Abrahamic covenant (that promised land, descendants, and blessing for the Israelites) and what was said in places like Leviticus 26:12—“I…will be your God and you will be my people” (see discussion in Block, Judges and Ruth, 113). For better or worse, God had made this covenant with these people and nothing was going to sever that.

Therefore, God’s pristine track record of faithfulness to his people (as witnessed it the miraculous Exodus) and his covenant with his people ought to have engendered reciprocal faithfulness and obedience on the part of God’s people.

What God desired of his people was relatively simple. First, “…you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land” (2:2a). After all, with an agreement with God already made, who needs an agreement with inferior powers? With a relationship with the Almighty Lord, who needs to flirt with pagan idols?

Second, the people were instructed to “tear down their altars” (2:2b). This was necessary as these altars served as symbols of the false worship system of the land’s inhabitants. If allowed to remain, these would tempt Israel to turn away from the Lord to other gods (see Exod 23:24, 32-33; 34:12-14; Deut. 7:1-6, 16) (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 139). These two activities (a prohibition to not enter into agreements with foreign powers and a command to tear down idolatrous altars) should have been easy for the Israelites to endorse given all that God had proved to them and the superior covenant he had provided them.  

However, this angels calls out their disobedience in the last part of verse 2—“But you have not obeyed Me;…” (2:2c). Agreements with foreign entities were being made because of a lack of trust in God’s ability to sustain them. Pagan altars remained in the land and were already enticing God’s chosen people. Something of the heartache and exasperation this brought upon the Lord is heard in the question voiced next—“what is this you have done?” (2:2d). Often God will respond to failure and sin with such questions. He said to the embarrassed first couple following their sin “who told you that you were naked?” Frequently this questions are used in response to actions that proved either stupid or deceitful in the eyes of God (Gen 12:18; 26:10; 29:25; 42:28; Exod 14:11; Judges 15:11). There is something about asking pointed questions that cuts to the heart of the accused. This is God’s intent here. The Lord’s people had personally failed their God and he wants the sting of this to rest heavy on those who have disappointed him.

As a direct result of the Israelite’s failure to do what they have been asked to accomplish, God will cease acting on his people’s behalf to drive the Canaanites out of the land. No longer will the campaign that proved swift and effective under Joshua and others, be successful. If God’s people were not especially interested in finishing the job that God started, then the Lord would allow these pagan people and their influence to remain in the immediate context of his covenant people. This is one example of God handing his people over to their sin.

A consequence of this punishment would be that “they (these pagan nations) will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (2:3b). The physical presence of the Canaanites in and around God’s people will prove to be a real nuisance and spiritually paralyzing. While the Israelites might have been impressed with the Canaanites’ power and may have believed that allying themselves with them would have provided for more freedom and comfort in the land, God says that these same people will entrap God’s people and hold them spiritually captive.

Many things in the world sold as liberating and comfortable prove enslaving in the end. Here, God’s people believed that the concessions they made in chapter 1 were in their best interests in the long term. However, as God reveals, what may have seemed to be expedient will prove utterly debilitating.

“When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept…” (2:4). What this angel has said—both the reminder of better days under Joshua and their present failures to remain faithful to the Lord and his commands—is too much to take in and they break down into tears.

So acute and vociferous is their weeping that “they named the place Bochim;…” (which means [place of] weeping) “and there they sacrificed to the Lord” (2:5). These actions—both the renaming of the location and the sacrifice offered—seem to indicate true repentance. Their cries betray that they acknowledge they have failed to act rightly in the covenant relationship with God and have entertained cultic actions and people. Their sacrifice indicates their willingness to take the first steps in the right direction and correct their ways. This seems to be the right response to what has been shared by God. However, this will be the only time such corporate repentance is demonstrated in the book and the remaining chapters will reveal just how short-lived this revival will be (Block, Judges and Ruth, 117).

2. The Life and Death of Joshua-2:6-10

Next, the writer of Judges reflects on the life and death of Joshua. The account in verses 6-10 does not cover the time immediately following what has happened in verses 1-5, but looks back retrospectively to the events that unfolded prior to the time of the judges. In many ways, what is shared in these few verses is a retelling of what was already revealed in Joshua 24:38-41. Prior to the time of the judges “when Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land” (2:6). Each tribe was given a particular jurisdiction for which to be responsible and to successfully settle.

 “The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel,…” (2:7). During Joshua’s day, people were faithful to the Lord. This legacy continued in the lives of the generation that followed Joshua’s death. These had seen the had of God on their behalf and perhaps because of these experiences, these had more motivation to remain loyal to the Lord. As most humans are a simple and concrete lot, many buy into things more quickly if they can see or experience it for themselves. The same is true to this day. In our relativistic world, many don’t act based on what they’ve heard, but what they’ve seen firsthand. For many experience, not revelation, is the currency of conviction.   

While experience is not always a bad teacher/motivator, it is ever-changing. This is illustrated next in the death of Joshua—“Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash,…” (2:8-9). The leader and cheerleader of God’s people expired and the experience of God people had changed. Would they rely on the unchanging promises and revelation of God to carry them through to the next season in spite of these changes? 

Suffering the loss of one figure is one thing, but then losing an entire generation is another thing entirely—"All that generation also were gathered to their fathers” (2:10). Bereft of Joshua’s leadership and the legacy left behind to the next generation, the people of God were on precarious, but not impossible ground. Greater even than Joshua and greater even the generation to follow is God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Would the next generation currently settling the land God had promised their fathers, Joshua, and Moses remember this?

Verse ten provides the answer: “and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which he had done for Israel,…” (2:10b). This is a classic case of the failure of a community to keep alive its memory of God and his saving acts. The many festivals/feasts, the many priests, and the teaching of the law—all of which celebrate and promote the unchanging truths of God—somehow did not prove compelling in their effort to remind and reiterate who God is and his purpose for his people. It is possible that that these spiritual practices and provisions had, in the period leading up to Judges, been reduced to mere formality and only offered people an opportunity to “go through the motions.” Regardless of exactly the reason why these things failed to motivate faithfulness in the hearts and mind of God’s people, shortly after the death of Joshua and those alive during his day the Israelites had forgotten both the God who saved them and the many mighty acts he had taken on their behalf.

So What?

The theological reasons for Israel’s failure during this time are not unlike what is possible in our world today. In our scientific, relativistic, and emotional culture, the unchanging revelation of God has been pushed to the background and, even in some churches and among some believers, totally forgotten. As a result, when things change and pressure to give into all kinds of wickedness mounts, many surrender valuable ground in the battle for truth and allow their circumstances to guide them more than the canon of scripture. Here, in Judges 2, the failure to remember God and his faithfulness (as a guide, provider, miracle worker, etc.), had the people of Israel giving into the wickedness of idolatry. Today, failure to remember God’s truth and his faithfulness in our lives can have people succumbing to the same.

How do we know whether or not we are adequately remembering the Lord and his faithfulness? Ask yourself: Do you find yourself preoccupied by something/someone other than the Lord (legislation, your “rights,” money, family, vocation, etc.)? Are you willing to look past or justify decisions and/or behaviors that are contrary to scripture in your own life or the lives of others to achieve some end? Does your confidence depend on what is decided at the ballot box, in the courts, what is found in your bank account, or what your friends may say? Let today serve as a reminder—the same God who brought his people out of the slavery of Egypt brought you out of the slavery of your sin. The same God who kept his promises to Israel will keep those promises he has made to you. The same God who faithfully provided for his people in the wilderness has, time after time, answered your prayers, provided what you need, and will remain with you to the end. This will never change! May this bring you hope and, if necessary, inspire repentance in your life today. May God grace allow the revival in your life to last longer than it did in the day of Judges.

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