Open to the 1st chapter of the book of Judges. Judges, chapter 1.
We’re actually going to be studying Judges 2:6 – 3:6. But we’ll start in verse 1 of chapter 1. The book of Judges opens on this note – “Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” And then what we saw in our last lesson was the children of Israel failing again and again in worse and worse ways to drive out the wicked nations around them. That’s a summary of the entire first chapter of this book.
Then we saw the first section end in 2:1-5. If you read the first chapter you might wonder why the Israelites kept failing. Verses 1 through 5 explain it. They explain it to us. But they also explained it to the Israelites of those days. The Israelites couldn’t possess the land and drive out the Canaanites. Why? End of 2:2. “…but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?” Then God says – through his angel or messenger that he sent – that he’s not going to drive the Canaanites out anymore. The people weep. But did they truly repent? I think not.
And then we get to chapter 2 verse 6 – the beginning of our section for today. Let’s read 2:6-9.
KJV Judges 2:6 ¶ And when Joshua had let the people go, the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land. 7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. 9 And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash.
Wait a second. Why are we talking about Joshua again? I thought he died back at the start of chapter 1. If you just kind of read right through the first two chapters of this book and you weren’t thinking straight you might get the idea that Joshua died twice! Of course, that’s not the case. But this is where it’s really helpful to recognize that the author of this book included not one introduction but two of them.
Well, why two and not just one? The first introduction involved all things that the Israelites themselves could experience. They heard about the battles. They saw and listened to the messenger who came to proclaim punishment. They would humanly experience all these things. But here in 2:6 through 3:6 it’s like the narrator pulls us aside away from the scenes of failure and punishment in this book and lets us in on God’s perspective on the situation. So that’s what to expect in this section. God’s perspective on his people’s disobedience.
But so far in this section we haven’t heard anything about disobedience, have we? All the people served the Lord throughout the time of Joshua. They even obeyed during the lifetime of the elders who outlived Joshua. Obedience – as we saw in the book of Joshua – was the behavior of the day. I wonder what happens after those elders die. Let’s read verse 10.
10 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers [so the elders who survived Joshua are dead – now what?]: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
I’ve heard the following phrase applied to the concept we read about in verse 10 – “generation degeneration”. A degeneration happening between one generation leaving and another rising up. And in this case the degeneration isn’t physical or anything – it’s spiritual. This new generation didn’t know the Lord. What? They didn’t know about Yahweh, the awesome God of Israel? I think they probably knew about him. They had heard about him. They knew their fathers worshipped him. But this new generation by-and-large did not have an experiential knowledge of Yahweh. They certainly wouldn’t have been reflecting the sentiment of the Apostle Paul who counted all things as loss for the exceeding value of knowing Christ. They weren’t pressing on to know this God of their fathers.
And so it’s predictable that this new generation wouldn’t have known the works that Yahweh had done for Israel. Again, did they know their Hebrew History? Yes, of course. The generation that preceded them was commanded to teach their children. They set up stones near the Jordan to prompt them to tell their children about God drying up the river so Israel could cross over. The former generation would have practiced circumcision and celebrated the Passover – both of which communicated volumes about Israel’s God. This new generation knew about God’s acts for his people… But they hadn’t experienced such acts for themselves.
There are a number of young adults here who live under their parents’ roof. Do you know the Lord? Do you know his mighty acts that he’s done for his people? Have you experienced Christ? Have you realized that your sin is so immense and offensive that it is sending you to hell? Have you turned from it and received Christ’s payment for that sin?
If you haven’t, ultimately we’re not going to blame your parents. If they are trying to raise you in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, what more can they do? Ultimately the responsibility for each generation of those who associate themselves with God’s people to experientially know the Lord lies on… that generation – not the previous one. The burden is yours to know the Lord.
And nevertheless, parents… are you telling your kids about the things God has done in your life. God gave the Israelites a pile of rocks to prompt them to remind their kids about spiritual realities. If rocks prompt you to speak to your child about the Lord, I won’t stop you. But you don’t need rocks. Do your children know how God saved you? Are you helping them see how God has led your family along through some wildernesses? Do you know the gospel and the Scriptures well enough to explain some things to them? Tell your family what you know – and keep learning and knowing the Lord yourself so that you’ll be able to teach others also.
Well, the new generation in Israel didn’t know the Lord. And do you know what happens when an entire generation doesn’t know the Lord? Verses 11 through 15.
11 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: 12 And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. 13 And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. 14 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. 15 Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.
The Israelites served foreign gods. Who are these gods anyway? There are two mentioned by name. Baal and Ashtaroth. Baal was a Canaanite god. He was supposed to have been in charge of storms. Storms seem unpleasant to us 21st century westerners, but ask a farmer or a gardener how their business does without the right amount of rain storms. When life depends upon your fields yielding produce, rain is essential and storms are the vehicle by which rain is delivered. It’s like today if you worked in an office and the internet goes down. How much can you really get done? Not too much. So Baal was an attractive god. He brought the rain, supposedly. And rain brought fertility to the land in the form of produce. So apparently Baal was also viewed as a fertility god. Fertility – not only in relation to the ground – but also in relation to bearing children so that you could have workers to work the family farm. And I hardly want to mention this, but to the best of my understanding, the worshippers of Baal would try to assist Baal in bringing fertility. How? You’ve read elsewhere in the Bible of “temple prostitutes”. Well, through participating in immorality with these prostitutes the worshippers of Baal believed they would encourage their perverted false god to bring fertility to their ground and to their family.
OK, what about Ashtaroth? She was a female deity often represented by a wooden pillar of some sort. In the make-believe world of ancient Canaanite false religion, Ashtaroth was the mate of Baal. Apparently their activities together produced rain.
Believe it or not, I’ve tried to be pretty restrained in what I just explained. Because it’s defiling just thinking about what the ancient Canaanites – and this new apostate Israelite generation – believed. But it’s reality. It’s how people thought in those days. It’s the thick darkness in which they were operating. Aren’t you glad things aren’t that way these days?…
No, these days it’s much better. Right? Instead of our society so focused on fertility in every area of life, abortion is the interest of the day. You thought it took a lot of imagination to believe that stuff about Baal and Ashteroth? Well, it takes just as much imagination to pretend that the little baby in the womb being torn to pieces during the so-called “medical procedure” of abortion isn’t a little baby – that somehow this doesn’t constitute murder. This all takes quite a bit of imagination – or, really, blindness.
And maybe that issue hits close to home. It does for various ones of us to different degrees. But maybe for most of us abortion – it’s an issue, but it’s rather distant. It doesn’t affect us immediately. Hey, even some lost people think abortion is wrong. Could there be other delusions that we as God’s people are more likely to buy into?
What is your life about anyway? What’s the goal? Is it comfort and wealth? You know how to find out? Take the comfort and wealth away. You’ll see really quick if that’s what you’ve been serving. Now, we’re all supposed to labor. If we don’t work we don’t eat. But how subtle is the god of money. It, like other things, is a great servant but a horrible master. Jesus warned in very plain terms – you cannot, CANNOT serve God and money. Those two deities battle each other for worshippers. You would probably agree that the whole Baal thing is rather silly. And you’d be right. But do you see the foolishness of deifying money – pretending like it can solve all your problems? It won’t. Only Yahweh, the God of the Scriptures is powerful to save and deliver and provide.
Baal worship was ridiculous. Did the people need water? Did they need children? Who sends the rain? Baal? No, the Lord. Who opens the womb? Baal? No — the Lord. The modern western idol of money is equally ridiculous. Do we need things – clothes, shelter, food, transportation – in this modern world? You better believe it. Does money ultimately give us this stuff? Does money have power in itself to give us what we truly need? No, that’s the Lord’s job. He uses money. But let us be so careful to worship the Creator rather than the creature. Lord, help us to see this idol – and every idol — for what they truly are – false.
So this is what the Israelites were doing – following the false gods of the pagan world around them. And God had to respond. And God’s response isn’t pleasant. He’s provoked to anger. Israel was his. He made a covenant with her. And now she’s going off and — from God’s point of view – acting like a prostitute. He’s been nothing but good to her. And so he reacts with justifiable anger. God delivers Israel to plunderers who plunder them. He sells them to their enemies before whom they can’t stand. […Remember Joshua…?]
And this is all according to the promise God made back in Deuteronomy. Remember? If Israel obeyed – blessing – abundance of every sort. But on the flip side, disobedience brought a curse. And you remember some of what he threatened them with. Their enemies would defeat them. They’d be utterly destroyed. He would exile them from their land. He’d send diseases upon them. And on and on. So, I’m sure that’s what you’re ready for. You’re ready for Yahweh to just annihilate this disobedient people. Send them out of the land!
But let’s see what God actually does in reaction to the faithlessness of his people. Verse 16.
16 ¶ Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.
Nevertheless! Despite Israel’s utter unfaithfulness, despite her direct disobedience, despite the ridiculous pagan practices and beliefs they had adopted – God sent salvation to them. That word translated legitimately as “delivered” in other places is translated as “save”. That word is the “shua” in the name Joshua –Yah (the Lord) Shua (Saves). So in the face of direct disobedience and rebellion, the Lord sends “saviors” to his people. And they save Israel from their enemies.
The “saviors” are called judges. That’s where we get the name of the book, of course. But a judge to us in our culture isn’t the same as what we see these individuals doing. These biblical judges aren’t sitting in robes at desks with gavel in hand interpreting the laws and rendering verdicts. No, these judges are really the equivalent of tribal leaders. So, remember that. These judges that we will see starting in our next lesson are tribal leaders – leaders of the tribes of Israel. Sometimes they lead just one tribe. Sometimes several. Sometimes you wonder if they’re leading at all – like Samson. But these individuals – the judges – are simply leaders of tribes.
So, wonderful! The Lord sent tribal leaders to save his people! That should do it. No need to write any more after this verse, right? No, these tribal leaders weren’t always real effective. And further, it wasn’t always their own fault. Let’s read verse 17.
17 And yet they [Israel] would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.
Again, we see Israel’s treachery against Yahweh. Surely he would be justified in just annihilating them on the spot. Right? I mean, he’s been so good to them. And he promised to ultimately exile them if they disobey him. He’d be right to carry out his sentence of judgment on them. But here’s where we really learn about the heart of our God. Let’s read verse 18.
18 And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.
It repented the Lord. The Lord felt pity and compassion for his people. He felt sorry for their extremity. But it was their own sin that brought the extremity! Let ‘em have it, I say! But that’s not the heart of our God. Isn’t the Lord amazing? He must punish sin. And yet he is moved with pity for his pitiful sinful creatures. And he’s the same way today.
You would think that all the compassion God shows his people would cause them to turn to him. And sometimes it does. But often it doesn’t change the recipients of that compassion at all. Verse 19.
19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.
What’s the ultimate result when God’s sinful people reject his compassion? Verses 20 through 23.
20 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; 21 I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: 22 That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua.
What reason does God give for leaving the pagan nations in Israel? There are two. The first is because they wouldn’t listen to God’s voice. We heard that already back in the first five verses of chapter 2. But now we’re introduced to another reason God left those nations in Canaan – to test Israel to see if they’ll obey the Lord like their fathers did. Well, of course, this new generation ended up not following the Lord like their fathers did. And those nations that God left did end up revealing whether Israel would obey or not. Of course, most all Israel disobeyed the Lord.
And isn’t it interesting what God says at the end of verse 23? Something that God determined after the death of Joshua affected what happened during Joshua’s life time. How do you explain this? Apparently God knew that this generation degeneration was going to happen and so even back in the days of Joshua he didn’t allow Joshua to conquer all the land. Interesting.
Next, in chapter 3, verses 1 through 4 we get a list of the nations that God left in Canaan and a few more pieces of information.
3:1 ¶ Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; 2 Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; 3 Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. 4 And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
Well, here’s another reason that God left the Canaanites in the land. God did this first because Israel wasn’t obeying him. Second God wanted to test Israel and see if they would obey him. And now we see that God actually wanted to teach Israel how to fight. So even God’s punishment is instructive and edifying for his people.
Then the introduction to this book ends with this ominous note – verses 5 and 6.
5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: 6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
Israel intermarried with the Canaanites. And – no surprise to anyone – that intermarrying led to idolatry, just like God said it would. And this issue of intermarriage with pagans would dog Israel even up until the last events we have recorded in the Old Testament. Do you remember in the book of Nehemiah that one of the big problems that God’s people were still struggling with was marrying unbelievers? So this would turn out to be a perennial problem for Israel.
And so anyway, this is how the introduction to the book ends. We had the first introduction. It told us how Israel slipped by failing to drive out foreign armies. Then we have the second introduction. It tells us about Israel failing to resist idolatry and the pattern of disobedience, judgment, and deliverance they would participate in.
And then what do we see for the next 13 or so chapters? Israel participating in a pattern of disobedience, judgment, and deliverance. So, Lord-willing, next lesson we’ll start seeing that pattern filled-out in detail.