The book of Judges begins with the death of Joshua. The Israelites have settled in the land of Canaan and were a strong military force. However, as we will see, they became complacent and failed to complete the mission God gave to them. Instead of driving out all the inhabitants of the land they had conquered, they allowed some of the people to live among them as slaves. This was outright disobedience to the Lord’s commands, which resulted in severe consequences.
As you read the following study on Judges, think about how this story compares to the Christian life. What has God called Jesus followers to do? What is the mission of the church? How have we failed to complete this mission? And, what are the consequences of our disobedience to Christ’s commands?
Judges 1:28: When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
Judges 2:1-3: “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
In the land of Canaan at the time of the book of Judges, there was a common understanding that someone would typically have three different gods. There was a national god, which was passed down through generations and worshipped by the entire nation. This god was called upon in times of war or national crisis. There was a family god, which was passed down and worshipped through the family, and called upon in times of need among the family members. And then each person would choose their own god for themselves, who would be called upon for personal success. The way someone might choose a personal god would commonly be during a time of sickness or trouble. An individual would go to various shrines to make a food offering, and wait to be delivered. If deliverance wasn’t provided, he would go to the next shrine and offer a sacrifice to a different idol. If deliverance was experienced, he would assume this particular god found favour in the sacrifice, and so the individual would choose this idol as his personal god and continue to bring sacrifices to it.
Yahweh was viewed by the Israelites as their national God, but because of the influence of the other nations, the Israelites believed that they were free to choose for themselves a family and a personal god. The Israelites found idolatry attractive because it was guaranteed, it was materialistic, it was easy and convenient, it was socially acceptable among the other nations. It was strange for the other nations to think that the Israelites could worship an invisible God who was believed to be able to do everything, as they worshiped gods that were represented by images made of wood and stone, and they understood that each god performed a different task. Idolatry was also pleasing to the senses because of the use of iconography and craftsmanship, it was indulgent and it was erotic, satisfying their desire for a lifestyle of constant eating, drinking and sexual promiscuity. Idolatry became natural for the Israelites because they were surrounded by it. The warnings God provided prior to entering Canaan was coming true: they did not drive out the other nations, and so the Israelites were getting themselves into trouble through idol worship.
However, every time there was oppression from other nations, the Israelites called upon their national God, Yahweh, for deliverance. But, each time God delivered them, it wasn’t long before they slipped back into idol worship, conforming to the ways of the nations. Instead of relying on Yahweh for provision, they sacrificed to a Baal or a fertility-god. This caused God to again give the Israelites over to the surrounding nations, and thus we see a cycle among God’s people of idol worship and crying out for deliverance.
Judges 2:11-23 provides an overview of what happened among the Israelites during this time, and the following passages show how Israel was disobedience over and over again during the time of the Judges:
3:7: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
3:12: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord.
4:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died.
6:1: The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.
8:33: As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.
10:6: The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.
13:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
21:22: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
As you can see, Israel failed to obey God. As you read earlier, God warned the Israelites that because they failed to complete the mission, the people of Canaan would become a thorn in their sides, and their gods would be a snare to them. God, of course, was right. The Israelites fell victim to the lures of the Canaanite idol worship. The constant exposure to the way of life in that land caused the Israelites to participate in these evil practices.
As I was studying the book of Judges, I realized that I am the same as the Israelites. When God called me out of a life of slavery to sin, he commanded me to drive everything out of my life that could become a snare to me as I follow Christ. But I have not obeyed God. I find that I constantly allow small, seemingly harmless, aspects of my old self to remain. The Israelites thought they had conquered the land, and keeping a few of the local people around as slaves would not be such a bad thing. But God knew that even a small population of idol worshippers could cause problems among the Israelites. God told them to get rid of every last one, but out of pride, they refused. And out of pride, I have refused to get rid of every last remnant of my old self. So, I ask, what is left of in your life that should be driven out?
God gave the Israelites plenty of chances to get rid of the Canaanites. He provided Judges to lead them out of bondage, but as soon as they had a sense of relief from oppression, they fell back into idol worship instead of pressing on to further victory.
God gives us the power to overcome the oppression of sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit is with us and is able to strengthen us to victory. However, as soon as a small victory is won, we think we are safe. We think we can stop fighting, meanwhile small remnants of sin remain and grow in their influence over us. It isn’t long before we are calling out to God for deliverance once more.