Monday, February 24, 2020

More than a Pet Peeve- Judges 2:11-15

A pet peeve may be defined as something that someone finds especially annoying—i.e. a frequent subject of complaint. Many people have sources of annoyance and some have more than others. I thought I’d share a couple of mine with you. Drivers who slow down long before they have to prior to moving into a turning lane (and then never using their signal to indicate such a turn is coming). People who, when asked to repeat something, say the very same thing in exactly the same volume as before. The indiscriminate repetition of vocalized pauses such as “uh” or “um.” Celebrities who believe that I care what they think concerning a matter for which they are nowhere close to an expert. These, in varying degrees of severity, can set me off. Perhaps you can identify with some of these and perhaps you have others, but many of us, if we were honest could provide examples of things that really get under our skin. This had me thinking, does God have pet peeves? If so, what might one of them be? As we continue our study in Judges, I’m convinced that there is a very compelling answer to this question. Today we are going to observe two parts of a hearing that reveals one of the quickest ways to incur the wrath of God in Judges 2:11-15.

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1) The Indictments against God’s People-2:11-13

The first part of verse 11 reduces Israel’s major problem into one concise statement (a statement that will be repeated in one way or another throughout this passage and the rest of the book)—“Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (2:11a). “Evil” most often refers to moral or spiritual malignancy (Block, Judges and Ruth, 123). When someone or a group of people “does evil” (ra), it usually adds a theological element to the moral failure envisioned. This is aided by the addition in verse 11 of “in the sight of the Lord” (2:11a). As God is omniscient (all knowing), nothing escapes his sight. Add to this the fact that these are his people (for whom he is especially interested) and the nature of their sin (idolatry) and one realizes that God couldn’t help but notice the evil that the Israelites were endorsing in this period of history. Instead of worshiping and serving the one true God who had called them out of Egypt, had led them to the Promised Land, and had cut a covenant with them, Israel decided to serve “the Baals.”

This summary statement also serves as the first element of a chiasm (an ancient way of organizing a literary point) that will take the reader through to verse 13b.

A They served the Baals (11:b)
B They forsook the Lord (“Yahweh”) (12a)
C They followed other gods (12b)
C’ They bowed themselves down to them (12c)
B’ They forsook the Lord (“Yahweh”) (13a)
A They served the Baals and the Ashtaroth (13b) (Block, Judges and Ruth, 124).

Typically when an author organizes a point this way he is hoping to highlight something important (as seen in the ends of the chiasm and the apex/center). Here, the important point being made is an indictment against the people of God that is all to do with their willingness to commit idolatry. The ends of this chiasm demonstrate the residue/outward manifestation (they served other gods) of what is true of their hearts as seen in the center of the chiasm (they pursued other gods). YIKES!

But what about this “Baal” character. Actually, “Baal” was an ancient title meaning lord/master. Applied to a pagan God, the title meant divine lord or master. Among the Canaanites, Baal refers to the storm/weather God that was especially popular in this worldview. When Baal is made plural (as it is here with “Baals”) the reference is not to multiple gods, but to the numerous manifestations of the one weather god that the Canaanites depended on for blessing and the fertility of the land.

Idolatry (defined as the worship of anything other than the one true God) naturally means that the idolater turns from the Lord and opts to serve something else. This is captured in the first part of verse 12 (the second element of the chiasm)—“and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (2:12a). The author goes to great lengths here to frame this brand of idolatry for the especially shameful behavior it is. The Israelites are not just forsaking any god, but the one true God. He isn’t not just the one true God, he is the God of their own fathers. He isn’t just the one true God of their own fathers, the is the one who had miraculously provided for every step of the journey they had taken to the promised land.

Have you ever known someone to self-sabotage an otherwise healthy and good relationship? Those looking from the outside in can recognize in such cases how foolish the self-saboteur is behaving. Maybe you’ve seen it in a dating relationship, or, worse still, in a marriage. The couple has a good thing going; one party is proving faithful and loving; and yet, for some strange reason, the fickle party runs off to be with someone else. This is eerily similar to what was going on here with Israel. God had proved to be nothing but a faithful husband to his people—a loving provider and perfect leader. However, in spite of this, Israel is off with other suitors.

What is worse, they are trading a great situation for a grossly inferior one—“and followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were around them…” (2:12b). Baal—ooooooo—god of the weather. Sounds cool and impressive. What is his logo? A lightning bolt coming out of a cloud? The Israelites knew the God who created and controlled the weather! He is “Yahweh” (“Lord” in this context)—the self-existing one. If Baal is the weather god, even if he existed, would not his power depend on a low-pressure system, the sun, or a tropical depression?

I remember hearing on several occasions the following statement made as an encouragement to remain faithful in the context of marriage: “why go out for cheap burgers when you have filet minion at home?” The same could be applied here to Israel—“why follow after the gods of the people around them when they have a relationship with the one true God already?”

Ultimately, this is a classic case of allowing the context to determine one’s allegiance, not the truth of one’s own conviction. Here was a relatively small people group—the Israelites—living in close quarters with much larger and more powerful entities (at least, more powerful in the world’s eyes). Rather than take comfort in who they are in God’s eyes and remain faithful to him, they decide to give into the peer pressure and score points with their new neighbors. Friends, what we see here in Judges happens to this day and the same result always occurs. Any time God’s people trade him and his truth for something the surrounding culture and its influencers may sell as ultimate, they settle for less than the very best and run the risk of ruin. Whether it is fame, fortune, influence, sex, acceptance, or power, none of these suitors holds a candle to the one true God who alone is worthy of all glory and honor and praise, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and wants for nothing, who is the almighty creator of all the universe, the ultimate satisfaction for our every need, who loved us even when we were unlovely, and who is sovereign over all. The Israelites in this passage forgot this, and we cannot afford to make that same mistake.

When one forgets that God is the only one worthy of worship, anything and everything is up for grabs as an object before which to bow the knee. This is the fourth count against Israel here—“and bowed themselves down to them” (2:12c). “Bowing” was the posture of worship common in the Old Testament world. This posture, along with what has already been described demonstrates that Israel was already proving guilty of disobeying the second commandment God gave to Moses in the wilderness—“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them;…” (Exod. 20:4-5a). Here, the idol made/endorsed was a manifestation of the weather –a manufactured god of the sky named Baal. This graven image that the Israelites were bowing before rendered them guilty of breaking God’s second command.  

This angers the Lord greatly who is “a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5b)—“thus they provoked the Lord to anger” (2:13a). The quickest way to get under God’s skin is to render something/someone else the glory that is due his name and the worship that ought to be directed to him. Be it a golden calf at the base of Sinai (see Exod 32), Baal (see Judges 2), yourself, your significant other, your job, your family, your freedom, or whatever else, the worship of any of these inferior things angers the Lord.
Wrapping up the chiasm that began in verse 11 and concluding the charges/counts against Israel is another summary statement—“so they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth” (2:13b). Added to Baal already mentioned is this second pagan god, or in this case, the goddess of love and war. Often viewed by pagans as the consort or wife of Baal, this faux-pagan power couple was viewed as a force to be reckoned with among the nations inhabiting the land reserved for God’s people. Ultimately, what is portrayed in no uncertain terms here in verses 11-13 is this: the same people who had experienced Yahweh’s power in Egypt, at Mount Sinai, and in the desert, traded allegiance to the one true God for allegiance to the false gods of this land. Rather than expel these pagan influences in favor of the God who had given this land to them, they join forces with these people and begin serving gods based on created things instead of the Lord who created all.

2) The Sentence for God’s People-2:14-15

Following this list of indictments is God’s pronouncement of judgment against his people. This is introduced with an over-arching statement at the beginning of verse 14—“the anger of the Lord burned against Israel” (2:14a). What Daniel Block says about this comment captures the sentiment well—“Yahweh is a passionate God; he cannot stand idly by while other divine competitors snatch his people from him. Nor can he passively accept his own people’ adulterous affairs with other gods” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 127). God is not a cold unfeeling force somewhere far removed from what happens on the earth. He is personally invested in what transpires on the world’s stage and is deeply grieved by wickedness and especially saddened when people he has a vision for are swayed by inferior things/personalities.

This is why, as witnessed in here in Judges 2, God is not beyond disciplining his people severely so as to correct their misplaced affairs. In this case, God issues a two-fold sentence. First “he gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them,…” (2:14b). Exactly who these plunderers were won’t be revealed until later, but the point here is clear—while Israel hoped to gain something from fraternizing with God’s enemies, they would, in fact, be taken advantage of.

This is the age-old bait and switch—worldly/evil forces and/or personalities promise freedom and satisfaction to entice people to give in an inch and this is exploited to the nth degree. Not only are those who give into the world and evil robbed blind, they are even enslaved.

In fact, this is the next sentence God pronounces on his people—“and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies” (2:14c).
This passage serves as a concrete illustration for what evil can do if it is entertained and allowed to stick around. If wickedness and its influences is not actively avoided and rooted out of one’s life, it will inevitably rob and enslave. This was true in the case of Israel in the time of the judges and it is true of those who entertain ungodliness in our today.

One thing to remember in the case of the Israelites in Judges 2 is this—While Israel’s enemies should have been the Canaanites and their idolatry (both of which they were asked to expel from the land), by chapter 2 verse 15, due to their sin, their enemy had become God himself—“wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed” (2:15). Their guide, provider, sustainer, miracle-worker, and faithful helper had turned his hand against them and they only had themselves and their idolatry to blame.

So What?

One can see from this passage that far more than a mere pet peeve, idolatry is something especially grievous to God. He hates seeing those who are supposed to belong to him trust in, pursue, or worship something or someone else. This passage has worked to show that idolatry is not merely misplaced attention, it is shameful disregard and substitution of what is the very best for what is grossly inferior. Not only that, but he is a fool who would seek to replace the One who can provide true satisfaction with something/someone who promises such but only delivers exploitation and slavery. Also, it is ill-conceived to settle for a relationship with some created entity in the world that has been manufactured into something it was never designed to be when one could have a relationship with the Creator and Lord of the universe. Israel had Yahweh and yet she followed a weather god and his mistress of love and war to disaster. In Christ we have a relationship with God? What could be better? And yet, are you living today as though something/someone else is ultimate?

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