A. The Passing of Generations
In 2004 the Allies marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. It was a reunion of the primary World War II partners:U.S. Canada, Russia, Britain, and France. The Germans were also invited for the first time, be-cause there was some recognition that the Ger-man people suffered terribly in World War II.
Many noted that this was likely the last big hurrah for the World War II veterans. At the time the youngest of these veterans were in their late seventies. Quickly fading was what Tom Brokawhad labeled The Greatest Generation.
The World War II generation had dominated the national and international scene for 50 years, far beyond the normal cycle. Hard work, integrity, and a willingness to fight for freedom characterized that generation. What will the world be like when its influence becomes a legacy and then that legacy fades?
In the book of Judges, a surprisingly similar state of affairs is presented in the history of Israel. After the miraculous events of the exodus and the period of temporary residence in the wilderness, the people of Israel entered the Promised Land. There the armies of Israel fought many battles to liberate territory from the Canaanites. In this week’s lesson Joshua and his warrior generation have died off. The next generation is in control, and its stories are told in the book of Judges.
B. Lesson Background
The book of Judges records the history of Israel from the time of Joshua’s death until the time of Samuel, Israel’s last judge (see 1 Samuel7:15). This is roughly the time period 1400-1050ac. During this time period. Israel had no king but was instead guided by judges. Judges were men and women who arose providentially in times of national crisis to deliver the nation. They seemed to be endowed with the Spirit of God in a special way (at least some of them). The judges were a colorful cast of characters, including the woman-warrior Deborah, the fleece man Gideon, the left-handed assassin Ebud, and the ancient “superman” Samson.
The judges of Israel served several functions. At times they were judicial arbiters. More often they were national deliverers, frequently as military leaders. Judges were not like kings in that there was no hereditary succession. The one son of a judge who tried to succeed his father in this manner failed (Abimelech, son of Gideon: fudges 9).Furthermore, the judges of Israel did not function like kings by imposing taxes or negotiating treaties with other nations—functions expected of kings. Israel’s judges had no standing army but relied on the tribal leaders of Israel to provide men when military action was necessary. The judges did not have grand palaces or courtiers. They were seen as regular citizens with extraordinary responsibilities.
The period of the judges is in many ways the record of Israel’s “Dark Ages.” The Israelites had
become a settled nation, living in cities and villages. They were farmers, not nomadic shepherds like the patriarchs. Yet this is a time of crisis between faith and culture, between covenant loyalty and the enticing sins of the Canaanites. Chapter 2 gives a preview of the book and out-lines a cycle that is repeated many times in the period before Israel Isar a king. The cycle is tragically repetitive: apostasy leads to crisis, which leads to repentance, which leads to deliverance, which drifts back to apostasy. The verdict of the book of Judges is that this was a time of moral chaos. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). ‘See question #1, page 401
I. Generation Veers Off Course(Judges 2:11-14)
A. People’s Betrayal (vv. 11-13)
11, 12. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: and they forsook the Loan 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.
The previous generations of Israelites had experienced many mighty things. They had seen the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army (Exodus 14). They had beetsthe beneficiaries of miraculous food and water inthe wilderness (16:11-15; 17:6). They had wit-nessed the supernatural on the mountain ofSinai (19:16-20). They had beheld the mightypresence of God in the tabernacle (40:34, 35).Now the descendants of the exodus generationhave settled in the land of Canaan and becomeinfatuated with Canaanite religion. They have vi-olated God’s covenant and embraced idolatry.They have become conformed to the darkness of the world. From our vantage point it is easy tounderstand why God becomes angry with them.God has fulfilled every one of His promises to them, and they haverejected Him.
THE PRICE OF “FUN”
J. L. Hunter “Red” Rountree was the oldestknown bank robber in America. He was 92 whenhe died in prison on October 12, 2004.
Red got a late start in his profession. In his lateeighties he pulled off his first robbery at a Mis-sissippi bank. He was given three years’ proba-tion, a fine, and was told to get out of the state. Ayear later, in 1999, he robbed a Florida batik andreceived a three-year sentence. He was releasedin 2002. In 2003 he robbed a Kansas bank andwas sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison.Red Rountree had turned bitter many years ear-lier because of something about a bank loan thatdidn’t go well. The bitter spirit festered for yearsbefore he acted upon it. In a prison interview hesaid, “You want to know why I rob banks? It’s fun.I feel good, awful good. I feel good for sometimesdays, for sometimes hours.” No family memberclaimed his body upon his death. Apparently hisbitterness had made him a lonely old man.Israel’s time-and-again pursuit of fictitiousgods shows some of that same futility. Like RedRountree, Israel persisted in doing what was”fun.” But sinful “fun” is fleeting. Its the long runthe cost of sinful “fun” is always very steep. Boththe experiences of Red Rountree and Israelshould teach us a lesson. Will see learn?
13. And they forsook the LORD, and servedBaal and Ashtaroth.
As we look at this from a vantage point of over3,000 years after the event, it is puzzling as towhy the people of Israel would abandon theirGod and turn to the Canaanite gods. What was soenticing there?
There are two deities mentioned as receivingworship from the Israelites. Baal is actually a titlemeaning “lord.” Boalim in Judges 2:11) is theplural form of Baal. The ancient Canaanites wor-ship a chief male god whom they had given thetitle lord. He is seen as the weather god or stormgod, and thus he is the god who controls the des-tiny of the people. If Baal withholds the rain, thecrops do not grow and the people starve.
It also appears that the Canaanites believe thateach field has a lesser god that controls its fertil-ity. These gods are lords of the fields and havethe power to give abundant or meager crops.Thus, the Canaanites serve the “big Baal” of the weather as well as the “little Baals” of each indi-vidual farm.
Ashtaroth is also a plural form and is feminine.In Canaanite religion she is the consort of Baal.She is a fertility deity who is thought to controlthe fertility of both women and of fields. See alsoJudges 10:6.
The agricultural society of the Canaanites ven-erates these gods by practices that included rit-ual prostitution (male and female), childsacrifice, and orgy-like worship. Some scholarsbelieve that almost every woman living in aCanaanite village served a term as a temple pros-titute before marriage. The Canaanite religionsthus combine idolatry with forbidden sexuality.This is why it is common in the Old Testamentto see the worship of false gods as “whoring” (seeDeuteronomy 31:16; Judges 2:17). To make sex-ual immorality an act of devotion is strictly op-posed to the holy morality of the law that theIsraelites had received from God.
The Canaanites have gods with no morality,and this makes it easy to see why the men of Is-rael are attracted to this religion. Yet it is alsoclear why there can be no accommodation herefor those who are supposed to live according tothe holy covenant that their nation has with theholy God of Israel.
B. Lord’s Anger (v. 14)
14. And the anger of the Lord was hot againstIsrael, and he delivered them into the hands ofspoilers that spoiled them, and he sold themInto the hands of their enemies round about. sothat they could not any longer stand before theirenemies.
Are we surprised that this outrageous behaviorprovokes the hot anger of God? The result is thelifting of God’s providential protection for Israel.The nation is powerless to fight off the spoilersfrom surrounding peoples. A common strategy inthose days is for an armed force to swoop downat harvesttime and steal the crops while killingall who resist. Thus, the tragedy of deaths anddestruction is followed by grim times of famineand starvation.
IL Story Sadly Repeats
A. God Delivers (v. 16)
16. Nevertheless the Loon raised up judges,which delivered them out of the hand of thosethat spoiled them.
The author is clear that the people of Israelstand powerless before these foreign marauders.
GOD SENDS JUDGES
Their deliverance comes only when God choosesand empowers leaders, called judges. to rescuethem. This is a primary lesson found throughoutthe Bible. We can never hope to save ourselves.Salvation comes from God, who hears our cries,understands our helplessness, and comes to saveus (see Isaiah 35:4).
B. People Turn Away (v. 17)
17. And yet they would not hearken untotheir judges, but they went a whoring afterother gods. and bowed themselves unto them:they turned quickly out of the way which theirfathers scathed in, obeying the commandmentsof the LoRo; but they did not so.
We are drawn to share God’s frustration in thiscycle. The people suffer for their sin, so God de-livers them. But then they sin again, bringing onanother cycle of suffering. Why can’t they figureout this pattern?
From a coolly analytical viewpoint, it is easyfor us to see their folly. However, our life experi-ences are filled with similar cases. Sin leads topunishment and suffering (see Jeremiah 14:10).God notices our cries of suffering (see Exodus3:7; Nehemiah 9:9). Repentance saves us fromdestruction (see Jonah 3:10), because God neverstops loving us (see Psalm 89:32, 33, which ap-plies these principles to the royal descendants ofDavid).
The text draws a strong contrast to the faithful-ness of “the Joshua generation” and the faithless-ness of “the Judges generations.” Their ancestorsobeyed God’s commandments, but they did not so.False worship and disobedience go hand in hand.
C. God Still Delivers (v. 18)
18. And when the LORD raised them upjudges, then the Loan was with the judge, anddelivered them out of the hand of their enemiesall the days of the judge: for it repented the Loin)because of their groanings by reason of themthat oppressed them and vexed them.
God is involved repeatedly in the deliverance ofHis people. He provides a judge to deliver them,and He is with the judge. The book of Judges tellsthe stories of the judges with all their human fail-ings. For example, Samson is presented as a slow-witted show-off who can be tempted easily by anattractive woman (Judges 14-16). Although Sam-son is humiliated due to disobedience, God iswith him until the end, empowering him to de-stroy many of the enemy Philistines through hisown death Uudges 16:28-30).
In the antique language of the King James Ver-sion, the phrase it repented the Lord should not
be misunderstood. Today we think of repentanceas a humble response to personal sin. But Goddoes not repent in this way because God is with-out sin. The issue, rather, is that of the Lord’scompassion as He relents from His anger. God’swrath has yielded to His mercy. God is neveroverwhelmed by anger (see Hosea 11:9). (Seequestion #3, page 481
D. People Still Turn Away (v. 19)19.
And it came to pass, when the judge wasdead, that they returned, and corrupted them-selves more than their fathers, in followingother gods to serve them, and to bow down untothem; they ceased not from their own doings,our from their stubborn way.
There is a great sadness in this verse. It is notjust that the people lapse into disobedience, butthat they return to their sin so energetically! De-pravity can quickly become a downward spiralof destruction.
The root cause of this pattern is given to us:human stubbornness. This is sometimes cele-brated as a virtue, but it should not be. Stubborn-ness is not the same as faithfulness anal anuncompromising stand for righteousness. Stub-born people are usually prideful and unwillingto admit error. Stubbornness is equated with anunrepentant heart in Scripture (see Romans 2:5).God will not abide this type of human defiance.
SOME CALL IT STUBBORN
“Bullheaded,” “set in their ways,” or some justcall it being “stubborn.” That’s how we describeother people when they are being inflexible. Ex-amples of this trait might be a crotchety old per-son who refuses to take medications or theproverbial husband who rejects his wife’s plead-ing to stop the car and ask directions.
On the other hand, when it is we who arebeing inflexible, we see ourselves to be actingwith “dogged persistence,” having “steadfast fi-delity to a cause,” or exhibiting “plain of stick-to-it-ive-ness.” Perhaps we see ourselves in themold of a detective who single-mindedly pursuesa “cold case” for years and finally, brings a crimi-nal to justice. Or as a Thomas Edison. who maywork diligently for years, performing hundredsof experiments to perfect the light bulb. We alllike to believe that we act with motives that aremore noble than the motives of others, don’t we?There is an important difference between thevirulent trait of stubbornness and the virtuoustrait of fidelity. During the time of the judges, Is-rael made no pretense of holding to righteous-ness. Instead. the people stubbornly resisted
God’s warnings and refused to see the plain evi-dence of what their sinfulness got them. What doyou think: has human nature changed muchsince then?
III. Covenant Broken(Judges 2:20-23)
A. Delaying Promises (vv. 20, 21)20, 21.
And the anger of the LORD was hotagainst Israel; and he said, Because that thispeople bath transgressed my covenant which Icommanded their fathers, and have not hear-kened unto my voice; I also will not henceforthdrive out any from before them of the nationswhich Joshua left when he died.
Before his death Joshua reminded the peopleof Israel that God had never failed to keep Hispromises to them (Joshua 23:14). God’s promisesare always true. The land of Canaan was referredto as the land promised to the fathers of Israel(see Exodus 13:11). But Joshua also warned thepeople that if they worshiped the false gods ofthe Canaanites, then God had promised to pun-ish them and make the land an inhospitable andoppressive place (Joshua 23:12-16).
God’s promises, then, are both absolute andcontingent. God sets the terms of the covenant.God always upholds His end, absolutely keepingHis promises. However, when the human partici-pants fail to honor the covenant’s terms, thenGod withholds the promised blessings. Instead,He delivers the curses or punishments alsopromised in the covenant. Thus the contingencyelement lies in God’s promised response tohuman obedience or disobedience B. Testing Each Generation (vv. 22, 23)
22, 23. That through them I may prove Israel,whether they will keep the way of the LORD towalk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.Therefore the Lotto left those nations, withoutdriving them out hastily; neither delivered hethem into the hand of Joshua.
I had the measles as a child and now have animmunity to this disease. My daughter is alsoimmune to measles because she received a child-hood immunization against them. She arrived ather immunity via a different path, but the resultis the same. But if my daughter has a child, thatbaby will not be protected. Measles immunitycannot be inherited; it must be acquired by en-during either the disease or painful inoculations.Each generation is tested. Because faith is a per-sonal relationship, it cannot be inherited. Further-more, the true nature of faith is unknown until itis tested. The tireless God knows that the faith ofeach generation of His people must be proved (see1 Peter 1:7).
A. Chasing Other Gods
The Bible is an account of God’s pursuit ofHis lost children. It is also the story of human-ity’s flight from God and continual quest ofother gods.
Our society embraces the worship of a surpris-ing array of other gods. We see open worship ofthe gods of the occult and the pagan deities of na-ture. We see the worship of wealth and of power.We see the worship of sexuality and celebrity. Wesee the worship of sports and entertainment. Wesee the worship of technology and of materialism.
Our generations are not pursuing a single falsegod but many!
The Bible labels such vain pursuit as idolatry.Today’s lesson gives the inevitable results. First,we kindle the anger of God (Judges 2:12). Sec-ond, we suffer the withdrawal of God’s blessings(2:14). Third, God begins to oppose us or mayeven fight against us (2:15). But, fourth, Godsends a rescuer (2:16). IS, question #5, page-al As Christians, we realize that this gets to thecore of the gospel. We have strayed in sin, in-curred the wrath of God, and experienced thewithdrawal of His blessings. Our deliverer, JesusChrist the Savior, rescues us from much morethan national peril. He wants to save us, individ-ually, from sin and the curse of eternal death.
B. Generational Legacies
There have been no world wars for over half acentury, and we hope the twenty-first centurywill not see their return. The “greatest genera-tion” with its many virtues and accomplishmentshas given way to its children and grandchildren.The transition has been difficult, and the churchbears the scars of generational conflict. It is noteasy to step aside when one has been in controlfor a long time. It is difficult to trust those whoare younger, less experienced, and whom wehave seen make serious mistakes growing up.Yet we cannot stop the transition. It will takeplace whether we facilitate it or resist it. Wemust trust God to work patiently with the newcrop of leaders, as he has for thousands of years.So ask yourself: Have the leaders of my churchallowed a place of influence for those younger,those in their twenties and thirties? Are the pri-mary leaders of my church all 50 and older? Whatcan I do to facilitate the transition? Do I have anattitude of encouragement or one of criticism foryounger leaders? What can I do to support newand younger leaders in my church? Is there a par-ticular young leader I can pray for this week?
Mighty God, we marvel at Your eternal consis-tency. You always keep Your promises. May webe faithful and receive promised blessings ratherthan curses. If we are caught in the downwardspiral of sin, please, dear God, intervene in ourlives and rescue us as Your judges delivered Is-rael. We pray this in the name of Your mightySon, Jesus, amen.
D. Thought to Remember
Those of each new generatio