How Quickly Things Can Change

The Book of Judges really is one of the most exciting books in the Bible—a combination of adventure story, ancient history, and epic tragedy all rolled into one. And though it teaches many lessons, one particularly stuck out to me as I was preparing notes to discuss the opening chapters of the book in last Sunday’s Seminary 101* connections class. 

Judges picks up the biblical story after the people of Israel have made substantial progress in capturing the promised land of Canaan. The Lord had gradually given them victory after victory under the leadership of Joshua. They were seemingly poised to finish their divinely appointed task of driving the inhabitants out of the land and possessing it for themselves. 

Even in the opening chapter of the book, however, there are hints that Judges will tell a different story. The tribe of Judah secures part of their allotted territory, but they fail in other areas because the inhabitants “had chariots of iron” (1:19). Likewise, other tribes fail to fully drive out various Canaanite peoples, choosing instead to put them to forced labor or sometimes merely live beside them (see 1:21-36).

Then, at the opening of chapter 2, Israel is visited by “the angel of the Lord,” who tells them:

“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.” (2:1-3)

Much of the rest of the book details the tragic consequences of Israel’s failure (along with the Lord’s many acts of mercy and deliverance).

But why did this happen? What made Israel fall away from faithfulness in their task? The narrative of Judges briefly flashes back to what happened after Joshua’s death:

When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years.…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (2:6-8,10)

One generation. That’s all it took. The generation after Joshua and his contemporaries was not all that far removed from the Lord’s mighty deeds on Israel’s behalf when he brought them up in the Exodus from Egypt: the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, being fed bread from the sky and drinking water from a rock in the wilderness, etc. More immediately, they would have been very familiar with the many victories the Lord had given his people in Canaan. Yet while they knew of the Lord intellectually, they apparently did not know the Lord in a relational, trusting way.

This is a sobering thought. When you get right down to it, there’s no guarantee that, say, The Crossing will survive to the next generation. And those of us who have kids certainly can’t take it for granted that they will love and follow Christ.

So what can we do? For one, we can call upon the mercy of the Lord now. We can pray that he will keep and strengthen his church, the he will continue to raise up faithful followers for his glory. We can pray that he will give our children hearts that will trust in him above all other things, that they “might dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa. 23:6). And in the meantime, we can ask God to keep our own hearts inclined to him, so that, in turn, we might continually remind the next generation of the grace and faithfulness of the Lord. In the words of David:

    One generation shall commend your works to another,
        and shall declare your mighty acts.
    On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
        and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
    They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
        and I will declare your greatness.
    They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
        and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 145:4-7)

*Seminary 101 uses the free courses that Covenant Theological Seminary makes available online as a part of their Worldwide Classroom. This current class is working through “Studies in Judges” by Dr. Jay Sklar, to which the above thoughts are indebted. 

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