Judges is a hard book. The descent down into apostasy starts off like the bunny slope at the ski resort but quickly transforms into a scary double black diamond.
It can be confusing at first because at the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua proclaims that all of God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled. And they were! They successfully took the land that God had promised and settled in it. Each of the tribes received their inheritance.
Even though they had received their inheritance in the land, not all of their enemies had been defeated yet. In fact, God leaves some of their enemies in the land for a purpose. He wants to know what’s in their heart. Is he ignorant of their true heart inclinations? Of course not! But love must be tested. Was their emphatic declaration of loyalty to God really sincere in Joshua 24?
And so the downward cycle of turning away from God begins in the next generation. They do not know the Lord. They do not remember what he has done. It strikes me that the reason for this isn’t a dramatic one. God had put in place the structures and laws that would’ve prevented it. The priests and Levites were in charge of the sacrificial system and for instructing the people. They were supposed to read the Law to all the people. The people were supposed to talk about the Law with their children on a regular basis according to Deuteronomy 6.
Consistency and faithfulness in what seems monotonous turns out to be crucially important.
God is still merciful, he still sends relief in the form of judges. But the longer you read in this book, the steeper that ski slope gets. Sin becomes more severe and the judges become less and less noble.
After this morning’s reading I opened my prayer app to start praying. The first prompt was this Scripture from Titus:
“But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7
I’ve known this verse and prayed this verse for a long time, but it’s amazing how it took on greater depth and vitality after reading Judges.
Joshua was right. The Israelites could not serve the Lord in their own strength based on past successes. Neither can we! They (and we) needed God’s grace to appear in the form of the perfect Judge and Savior, the Lord Jesus. We needed to be regenerated – not just a second or third (or a millionth) chance – we needed a completely new heart. And praise him for that word ‘richly’! The judges in Israel only had a temporary anointing of the Holy Spirit. He has been poured out on us richly!
There is certainly nothing in us that deserves God’s mercy. And left to ourselves we quickly abandon him and end up utterly wrecked and ruined at the bottom of that black diamond ski slope.