The Seventeenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
Several hundred years have passed since Israel entered Canaan and their leader Joshua had died. Generations of Israelites have come and gone, with each succeeding generation more Canaanized than their parent’s generation. Six times, we have read how the people of Israel forgot all about YHWH, how they found themselves threatened by their pagan neighbors, only to cry out to YHWH for deliverance. Six times, YHWH took pity on his people and raised up a “judge” or a deliverer who rescued the Israelites from those nations who sought to conquer or drive them from the land which YHWH had given to them. But now as we turn to the closing chapters of the Book of Judges, it becomes crystal clear that the true enemy facing Israel has little to do with the armies of Israel’s godless neighbors. Israel’s true enemy is Israel. We can see how far Israel has fallen when we consider that in the final five chapters of Judges, YHWH is hardly mentioned. In fact, what characterizes this closing section of Judges is the repeated declaration that “there was no king in Israel, so everyone did what is right in their own eyes.” These chapters of Judges depict a people whose religion is reduced to mere tradition, and who profess one thing but then do another. Having forgotten all about YHWH, the Israelites have become a law unto themselves.
As we resume our series on the Book of Judges, we will quickly finish up the final chapters of this troubling book. I say troubling because as the book unfolds, the people of God fall to ever deeper levels of depravity. By the time we reach the final chapters, Israel’s behavior is indistinguishable from that of their Canaanite neighbors. Long ago, the Israelites stopped determining whether something was right or wrong based upon YHWH’s law. Long ago, the people of Israel forgot all about those miraculous things which YHWH had done to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt. Long ago, the Israelites forgot God’s covenant promises, as well as YHWH’s command to drive the Canaanites from the land which he had given them. Long ago, the Israelites became so comfortable living along side their pagan neighbors, that they openly welcomed Canaanite sons and daughters into their families. In fact, things were so bad that the Israelites actually enjoyed attending religious services in which Canaanite practices were the norm. In other words, long ago, the people of God, forgot about God. The deplorable spiritual condition of Israel depicted in these final chapters (chapters 17-21) is nothing less than a national apostasy.
The Book of Judges opens with the declaration that Joshua has died with Israel settled in the land of promise. Judges ends with the declaration that “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This tells us that Israel’s struggle throughout this period of redemptive history was to remain faithful after God had given them their inheritance, after the people were living well in the promised land, and during a time when Israel did not have a covenant mediator (such as Moses and Joshua). Soon, the bond between the twelve tribes was fractured, the nation was unable to defend itself from external threats from those nations they had previously defeated, and who were now seeking revenge. YHWH’s people had become as pagan (if not more so) as the Canaanites around them. At the heart of the problem was the complete failure of the Levitic priests to instruct the people of Israel in the ways of the Lord. Instead of catechizing Israel, the Levites merely emulated the Canaanites.
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