The Second in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
While we’ll need to read between the lines to see it, in the opening chapter of the Book of Judges there is already strong evidence that Israel failed to complete the task YHWH assigned to them. That task was to drive all the Canaanites out of the land of promise and then occupy all the land that the Canaanites formerly inhabited so that the displaced Canaanites could not make their way back into Canaan and resettle there. The failure of Israel to do as the LORD commanded will bear much sad fruit as the generations begin to go by. Because of the pagan influence exerted upon Israel by the Canaanites, slowly but surely, the people of Israel will begin to turn their backs on YHWH and do what is right in their own eyes instead of obeying the commandments of God. As that happens, the Israelites will begin to worship and serve Canaanite “gods” as well as engage in all kinds of Canaanite religious practices. And just as Joshua had warned them in his farewell speech, the people of Israel will soon find themselves coming under the covenant curses, all the while crying out to YHWH for deliverance.
We continue our new series on the Book of Judges as we turn our attention to the opening chapter of this very interesting yet perplexing book. Last time we dealt with “big picture” stuff and devoted our time to introductory matters regarding the background and major themes of the Book of Judges. The Book of Judges tells the story of Israel repeatedly falling into sin, God then sending calamity upon his disobedient covenant people as a form of judgment, with God’s people then crying out to him for deliverance, before God sends a series of “judges” or deliverers (tribal leaders), who will pull the people of God back from the brink of disaster. In all of this we see God’s longsuffering mercy toward his people. We also see the innate tendency of the sinful human heart to worship and serve false “gods.” This is a book in which we see the people of God do things which are difficult for us to imagine. We will also see God rescue them in the most surprising of ways.
After the death of Joshua it did not take long for Israel to fall away from YHWH and begin to embrace the religion of the Canaanites. In Judges 2:11-12 we learn of the sorry condition of Israel which characterized this entire period. “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.” Not only were the people of Israel soon serving Baal instead of YHWH, but they were provoking YHWH (their shield and defender) to wrath, bringing down his judgment upon their own nation.
Not only can the pagan “gods” (especially Baal) do nothing for God’s people in terms of rescuing them from storms and increasing fertility–since the Baals were nothing but the figment of the sinful imagination–but the people of Israel had witnessed God’s great power and how he sent fear throughout the Canaanites when Israel entered the land. Because of this, the Israelites were completely without excuse for turning away from YHWH. Ironically, the people of Israel will find the same things happening to them that God did to the Canaanites. As the author of Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 10:31), “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The Canaanites learned this to be true when they suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of Israel under the leadership of Joshua. Now God’s own people must learn this lesson as well. Covenant blessings are much better than covenant curses.
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