THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Lord, Your mercy on Your errant people is amazing.
Read Judges 2:6–23
Disobedience and Defeat
6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres[a] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
16 Then the Lord raised up judges,[b] who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
20 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 23 The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.
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Give thanks for ‘all the great things’ the Lord has done for you (Judges 2:7)
These verses give the historical setting and provide an overview of what is to come in the rest of the book. From verses 11–19, how would you label the different stages in the Israelites’ repeated cycle of unfaithfulness? Michael Wilcock suggests a simple four-stage repetition of ‘Rebellion, Retribution, Repentance, and Rescue’ (Wilcock, p11). Sometimes the ‘Repentance’ stage is missing or is superficial; for example, ’groaning’ (18) is not the same as repentance. It is not the case that the Israelites deserve rescue but that because of His compassion and grace the Lord repeatedly raises up judges to save them (16,18). What light does this shed on the gospel of Christ and what effect should this have on our lives and attitudes?
The phrase ‘even more corrupt’ in verse 19 shows that after each judge dies the Israelites not only return to idolatry but plumb new depths of unfaithfulness. So perhaps the shape most suited to describe this is not a cycle but a downward spiral. We can also see this decline mirrored in the character of successive judges: of the three studied in these notes, the first, Deborah, is noble, the second, Gideon, begins in humility but ends in self-aggrandizement, and the final one, Samson, is arrogant, promiscuous, and violent. How far is it inevitable that leaders reflect the society which they lead?
We see a further aspect of the downward spiral in verses 20–23. The Canaanites whom Israel has not driven out of the land and who have led God’s people into idolatry now become a source of further testing and failure. These verses suggest that this is part of the Lord’s chastening. It is a common experience for human beings that sin leads to further sin; here is the added perspective that sin carries within it the seeds of God’s judgment.
Consider before God potential or actual downward spirals in your own life or the life of your community or nation.
Lord, we believe that the wise can learn from the mistakes of others. Teach us wisdom from the mistakes of these judges.